Four Democratic senators are pushing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to abandon a regulatory rollback they say benefits the oil and gas industry.
The agency has twice issued proposals to roll back a 2016 Obama administration rule on methane, a heat trapping gas more potent than carbon that is released during oil and gas production.
The latest proposal, released in August, would eliminate current requirements on oil and gas companies to install technology to monitor methane emissions from pipelines, wells and facilities.
A letter from Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Jeff Merkley (Ore.) asks the EPA to withdraw the proposal entirety, saying it was unduly influenced by industry.
“There is no substantive difference between an agency explicitly telling a company or industry to write a rule for it, and an agency telling a company or industry it will write whatever rule the company or industry wants. In both cases, the substance is all industry, whatever the letterhead, and the public interest is ignored,” the senators wrote in a letter Thursday.
The EPA has said the oil and gas industry already has an incentive to capture methane rather than flare it off.
“EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement when the latest rule was announced, referring to a 2017 order pushing for a review of regulation that “potentially burden” domestic energy production.
“The Trump Administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use. Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15 percent. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”
Oil and gas companies have largely been in support of regulating methane.
The president of BP America, Susan Dio, called methane regulations “the right thing to do for the planet” in a March op-ed.
The 19-page letter from the senators details repeated meetings with industry, including a photo of Wheeler meeting with the coal industry and a breakdown of donations from the oil industry to President Trump’s campaign.
But the senators are mainly concerned the industry cannot be trusted to reduce methane even with profits at stake.
“Reports suggest that even those companies that claim to be committed to reducing methane emissions are among the worst offenders when it comes to venting and flaring methane at oil production facilities,” the letter said.
EPA said it would respond to the letter through the proper channels.
“All EPA staff, career and political, receive ethics training and continually work with EPA career ethics officials to ensure they are in compliance with all ethics rules and laws to suggest otherwise with no evidence is a shameful accusation,” Michael Abboud, an EPA spokesman, said in an email to The Hill.
Critics of the EPA’s latest rule worry it could hamstring future administrations from taking tougher action on methane.
It’s also weaker than the Obama-era rule it would replace, reducing methane by 370,000 short tons annually, while the 2016 rule would reduce the gas by 500,000 short tons.
Updated at 12:10 p.m.