Methane is Back in the Congressional Hot Seat

Critical Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methane regulations are making their way back into effect. This is good news for wildlife like bats, mule deer, and cold weather-dependent moose that are negatively impacted by the effects of climate change.

Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, having over 80 times the climate altering potential of carbon dioxide over the next two decades. Climate change continues to reshape the environment and animal habitats, so much that it causes habitat ranges to shift or be lost, increasing occurrence of pests and invasive species, decreasing available resources, and speeding the rate of species extinction.

Mule deer buck
Mule deer buck at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside of Denver, CO. Credit: Oborseth.

One study finds that drought caused by climate change will likely decrease migration benefits for mule deer. They migrate to green habitats and forage for food — an occurrence that will decrease as drought delays “spring green-up.” Cold weather-dependent moose are susceptible to parasitic ticks, which aren’t killed off during the mild winters caused by climate change, resulting in declining moose populations in northern U.S. states. Seasonal patterns are being thrown out of balance, setting off a domino effect of unpredictable events.   

These domino effects demonstrate why the 2020 Trump methane regulations rollback was so politically and environmentally devastating — under the rollback, two main rules were amended to make compliance with Obama-era EPA regulations “less burdensome” for oil and gas companies. The first removed emissions standards for volatile organic compounds and methane; the second included changes to recordkeeping, labeling, and leak monitoring and repair schedules. These amendments were supposed to save the oil and gas industry millions of dollars in compliance costs, but over time the environment, wildlife, and disadvantaged communities end up paying the price.

Undoing Industry Deregulation  

In April of this year, the Senate voted 52-42 to rescind the Trump administration rollback and reinstate Obama-era EPA methane regulations. Then in June, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 30-22 to advance an identical resolution on EPA methane regulations. The full House is expected to vote on that resolution later this month. If signed into law by the President, the Obama-era EPA methane regulations will be back on the books.

Indiana bats
One of the most endangered species in Cuyahoga National Park, the Indiana bat, is expected to lose most if not all of its summer range (range used by female bats when raising their young) and other places in the Northeast if warming trends continue. Credit: NPS.

The EPA is also taking steps to make a new rule governing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, as seen by the recent announcement of public listening sessions. These are huge steps toward the advancement of common-sense, science-based, and clean-energy focused methane regulations — and they align with the Biden administration’s ambitious goal to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 relative to 2005 levels.

A Vote for the Climate is a Vote for the People

The harm caused by oil and gas industry pollution isn’t just limited to wildlife. Due to emissions from this sector, 238 counties in 21 states face a cancer risk that is greater than the EPA’s threshold of concern—that is over 9 million people at risk for air pollution-induced health complications.

Science shows that living near oil and gas facilities can have adverse health impacts such as fetal defects and respiratory ailments, but negative health impacts are seen even in populations that aren’t located close to oil and gas production. Humans, especially children, are susceptible to asthma attacks resulting from poor air quality from oil and gas operations, causing them to miss several days of school.

Tribal nations also bear a large burden of oil and gas industry pollution. In fact, analysis by the Clean Air Task Force has shown that emissions on federal and Tribal lands are disproportionately high—reported emissions from production basins dominated by these lands are much higher than expected, based on the portion of U.S. oil and gas produced on them. In addition to being subject to air pollution, tribes lose resources when oil and gas companies leasing Tribal land waste large amounts of natural gas, depriving Tribal nations of earned royalties. Those lost resources are needed to support Tribal communities through capacity-building, job creation, and infrastructure development. 

The reinstatement of stricter EPA methane rules is hopefully the first in a slew of climate change fighting regulations coming from the Biden administration. Protecting the environment is not synonymous with stifling economic growth, and the National Wildlife Federation supports the notion that environmental protection and economic growth can go hand-in-hand. Here is how you can support forward-facing climate legislation:

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