President Joe Biden restored limits on methane emissions from oil and gas facilities across the U.S. in a reversal of former-President Donald Trump’s rollback of the restrictions that were intended to reduce impacts on climate change from fossil fuel production.
Biden reinstated the regulations by signing a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, and received passing votes in both the U.S. House and Senate.
Before leaving office, the Trump administration rescinded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s methane standards, effectively removing the agency’s ability to regulate methane, while also lifting requirements for air pollution on transmission and storage facilities of oil and natural gas.
Upon signing of the CRA resolution, Heinrich said the move was needed to restore the U.S.’ commitment to the environment and efforts to mitigate the effects of pollution.
“Today, we put a down payment on the fight against the climate crisis. I’m proud to champion this effort to restore responsible controls on methane emissions – a leading contributor to climate change – and protect the health of our communities,” Heinrich said.
“It’s time to keep moving forward with real, meaningful actions that leave our children with a healthier planet.”
Methane is a greenhouse gas and a key ingredient of extracted natural gas in New Mexico, which is also brought to the surface during oil production.
State regulators were already seeking to strengthen regulations on methane ahead of the federal action, enacting new rules to be enforced by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division that increase reporting requirements, outlaw any spills or unplanned releases and require operators capture 98 percent of produced natural gas by 2026.
The New Mexico Environment Department was working on a separate rulemaking process looking to reduce air pollutants like methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from oil and gas operations as precursors to ozone, a cancer-causing air pollutant created when the gases interact with sunlight.
Robert McEntyre, spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association said the state’s rulemakings had industry support and such efforts on the state level should be considered by federal policy makers.
“New Mexico’s oil and gas industry is committed reducing methane emissions,” he said. “We have stood in support of new rules from state regulators to curb emissions and place New Mexico at the forefront of safe and responsible oil and natural gas production.”
McEntyre said regulations on oil and gas should allow for “market-driven” solutions and technological advancements coming from within the industry, and that tougher restrictions could limit innovation.
“Industry-led efforts to reduce emissions are working and will hopefully be recognized by federal policymakers as they continue to deliberate the best methods and practices to reduce emissions,” he said.
“Technology is rapidly advancing and has made significant strides since the initial federal methane rules were put into place four and a half years ago. This fact should be reflected in any policy directly regulating methane today or in the future.”
The signing was applauded by New Mexico environmental groups as a means of fighting air pollution, and a win for the Biden administration’s climate change agenda, after a federal judge in Louisiana struck down an indefinite halt Biden placed on new federal oil and gas leases amid a review of the federal government’s fossil fuel policies.
“New Mexicans—and the parents of more than 32,000 children attending schools within a half mile of oil and gas operations in our state—are heartened to see congressional action to address our methane problem,” said Celerah Hewes, New Mexico Field Organizer with Moms Clean Air Force.
“We look forward to working with the EPA and New Mexico’s congressional leaders to enact policies that protect the health and future of our kids.”
Kayley Shoup with Carlsbad-based Citizens Caring for the Future said that while the CRA resolution was an important step toward stronger environmental regulations, more work was needed to protect communities like her own adjacent to heavy extraction operations.
“As frontline community members in the Permian we experience everything that methane pollution has to offer,” she said. “We are living through drought, record breaking temperatures, and are exposed to emissions that hurt our health every single day.
“We hope they (Congress) choose to take even bolder action in the future in order to meet the magnitude of the moment we are living through.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.