December 14, 2021
The EPA’s plans to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas operations will need industry support to stick in case Republicans take over Congress after the 2022 midterm elections, EPA administrator Michael Regan told Bloomberg Law on Nov. 10 in Glasgow.
In an interview from the United Nations climate change summit, Regan said the plan to regulate methane emissions unveiled Nov. 2 will make the U.S. “globally competitive” because they constitute a “strong business play.”
Separately, he said, EPA has no specific timeline to name a head of its Office of Air and Radiation—the last remaining Senate-confirmed office to be filled at EPA.
Joe Goffman has been serving as the office’s acting head almost since the start of the Biden administration, a move that has drawn criticism from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“We have some strong candidates that the White House is taking a look at,” Regan said. “We hope to see a nominee sooner rather than later,” but he said the process has been slowed down because the White House has been focused on moving the infrastructure bill through Congress.
Methane on World Stage
On the world stage in Glasgow, Regan was focused on plans to slash methane, which has more than 80 times the power to warm the atmosphere as carbon dioxide over a span of decades.
The EPA’s planned regulations aim to cut the oil and gas industry’s methane pollution by 74% by 2030, giving industry the chance to “leverage technology,” he said.
“There’s a market-driven technological piece to this,” Regan said. “The industry would save over $260 million in just lost product by 2030.”
The U.S. is a party to the global methane pledge struck at the summit, the 26th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The pledge calls for countries to cut global methane emissions by 30 percent below 2020 levels within nine years.
The planned regulations, announced along with the pact, would cut emissions from abandoned oil and gas wells and other existing industry infrastructure for the first time. The proposal received cautious support from the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s trade group.
The industry needs flexibility in the technologies companies use to cut methane emissions, and “they’d like to lock it in from a certainty standpoint and they’d like to be rewarded,” Regan said.
Defining U.S. Waters
Addressing other non-climate areas, Regan said the way to ensure EPA regulations, especially expected new definition of waters of the U.S., or WOTUS, receive Republican support is to ensure voices in Republican states are heard.
A George W. Bush-era definition of federally-protected streams and wetlands is now in force after a court tossed a Trump-era rule lifting protections to some wetlands. Each of the last three administrations has written its own waters rule.
“There is no silver bullet” to avoiding the Biden administration’s expected WOTUS rule from being reversed by a future Republican administration, Regan said.
The EPA wants to ensure that farmers, builders and other stakeholders in Republican states have their voices heard as the agency writes the new WOTUS rule, he said.
“Robust conversations” in towns and cities where the EPA has never approached people about WOTUS will help strike a “proper balance between the role of state and federal government.”
“Quite frankly, the Trump administration’s rule really just left so many states vulnerable,” Regan said. “It was the federal government abdicating its responsibility.”
The EPA is making progress on hiring scientists—positions that were vacated during the Trump administration in part because of political interference.
Regan declined to say how many scientists the EPA has hired in recent months.
“By issuing a policy statement that we actually believe in science and that science is going to be respected, and political interference won’t be tolerated, we have staff that say, ‘We’re going to double down. We want to stay’,” Regan said.
He added: “We have a lot of work to do in terms of bringing people on board.”