White House Releases Methane Plan

On March 28, 2014, the White House released a climate action plan document entitled, “Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.”  The document lays out the sources of methane pollution, articulates a plan for addressing the issue, and outlines efforts to better measure emissions.

The plan addresses methane in four sectors:

Landfills

According to the report, landfills account for 18% of human-related methane emissions.  The plan calls for a new rule and further work on two existing voluntary measures.

New Rule – The Environmental Protection Agency will update standards for municipal solid waste landfills in the summer of 2014

Voluntary Measures 

Coal Mining

The report blames coal mining for 10% of methane emissions.  The plan will address these emissions with one new rule and increased work on an existing voluntary program.

New Rule – The Bureau of Land Management will release an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in April 2014 to solicit input on creating a program to capture, sell, and dispose of mine methane

Voluntary Measure – The EPA will continue work on its Coalbed Methane Outreach Program, which encourages recovery and use of methane

Agriculture

The report says agriculture accounts for 36% of methane emissions, and it will be addressed voluntarily.

Voluntary Measures

  • New Biogas Roadmap – The EPA, USDA, and Department of Energy will collaborate with industry groups to accelerate adoption of technology that reduces emissions
  • Enhancing Biogas System Deployment – The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has a number of programs that provide financial and technical assistance, and the EPA and USDA have an AgStar program than provides outreach and education

Oil and Gas

The report attributes 28% of methane emissions to oil and gas.  Interestingly, the report uses glowing terminology to talk about natural gas:

As our use of natural gas in manufacturing, transportation, and power generation increases – creating jobs, reducing costs, cutting carbon pollution, and reducing dependence on foreign oil in our nation – we must continue to build on progress in reducing methane emissions from this vital sector of our economy.

The plan proposes a number of actions that could lead to future regulation:

  • The DOE and EPA will encourage state regulators to go after methane
  • The EPA will study the need and possibility for EPA Clean Air Act regulations on specific technical issues
  • The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will look at the need for new replacing old, cast-iron pipelines

Voluntary Measures

  • The DOE will foster roundtable discussions between stakeholders and other experts
  • The EPA will bolster its Natural Gas STAR Program, which encourages methane-reducing technologies
  • The DOE’s Quadrennial Energy Review will recommend actions for government and industry to reduce methane emissions
  • The DOE’s research and loan programs will be used to encourage emission-reducing technology

New Rules

  • The BLM will propose a rule later this year to reduce venting and flaring of natural gas on federal lands

International Work

Improving Measurement

The White House says that it has enough data to take the steps listed in this document, but “sharpening our ability to measure emissions will enable more targeted efforts in the future.”  The plan calls for:

  • Supporting new measurement technology
  • Expand the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) methane monitoring programs (note this is one area where the report calls for action from Congress, in the form of more funding)
  • Improve the Global Methane Initiative measuring capabilities