NEWS: A Reckless Rollback
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
With the upcoming presidential election, thinking about the political efforts towards environmental conservation is more important than ever. Not only has the Trump administration withdrawn the United States from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, but it has also made attempts to reverse about 100 environmental laws and weaken the Obama administration’s efforts to curb climate change. As of two weeks ago, the administration finalized the rollback of the 2016 methane emissions rule, loosening restrictions on oil and gas companies. While the climate crisis only grows stronger, our country is ignoring science and centralizing its focus on economic benefits.
Strongly against researchers’ urges, these changes were made with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Andrew Wheeler, head of the agency, reported “E.P.A. has been working hard to fulfill President Trump’s promise to cut burdensome and ineffective regulations for our domestic energy industry” The Trump administration is getting rid of the federal requirement for companies to detect methane leaks in their equipment, pipelines, storage facilities and wells twice a year. While companies will still need to check for leaks, the government has loosened the standards (Davenport, 2020).
The EPA predicts that the rollback will add benefits of roughly $100 million a year until 2030, at the sacrifice of releasing about 850,000 tons of methane gas. Wheeler continues to justify his actions, ignoring the multiple studies that show methane emissions from America exceed the EPA’s data (Davenport, 2020).
In addition, 80 percent of research papers have found that the methane emissions from oil and gas leaks are actually two to three times higher than the E.P.A.’s approximations. Robert Howarth, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Cornell University, states “It’s crazy to roll back this rule. Twenty-five percent of the human-caused warming over the past 20 years is due to methane. Methane is going up. We need it to go down” (Davenport, 2020).
Scientists report that the changes in methane levels are so significant that the Paris climate agreement may not be enough action for international governments to try to find a solution for human-induced global warming. The increase in methane, along with other greenhouse gases, may heat up our atmosphere by 3 to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, exceeding the Paris climate agreement’s goal to keep warming under 2 degrees. Peter Raymond, an ecologist at Yale, states that the agreement did not “take into account the new increase in concentrations of methane” (Davenport, 2020).
In 2018, the oil and gas industry was accountable for almost 30% of the nation’s methane emissions (Davenport, 2020). Howarth continues to express his concern as he found that more than a quarter of recent global warming has been caused by methane gas with North America responsible for about one third of the total quantity of global methane emissions. Smith notes “...methane emissions are increasing rapidly and the oil and gas industry is clearly part of the problem. The decision by the Trump administration to rescind regulations on methane emissions is dangerously reckless”.
The EPA first proposed this rollback in 2019, but was met with strong disapproval by states and environmental advocacy groups (Davenport, 2020). Environmental groups are now publicly opposing the administration’s ruling and the Natural Resources Defense Council claimed that it will fight this issue in court.
Charlie Cray, a researcher at Greenpeace, an international environmental organization, urges “We need a president willing to stand up to fossil fuel companies, not a depraved climate denier and industry toady intent on rolling back restrictions on one of the primary drivers of climate change."
Surprisingly, some of the major companies within the industry, such as Exxon and Shell, are also opposing the rollback, noting that they had pledged to decrease methane emissions and join the fight against climate change. These players are calling on Trump to make efforts to fight climate change. The president of Shell in America, Gretchen Watkins, described this recent change in law as “frustrating and disappointing." With more reckless moves than ever, the consecutive orders to reverse environmental laws remain an American battle between prioritizing economic gain and environmental issues.
Rebecca Cho is a staff writer at The Incandescent Review and currently resides in Jericho, New York. Follow her Instagram @becca_cho1020.