White House Announces Methane Reduction Strategy

by Latham & Watkins LLP

On March 28, 2014 the White House announced its Methane Reduction Strategy (“MRS”) containing the broad outlines of a multi-agency strategy to reduce methane emissions from four major sources: the oil and gas industry, cattle and dairy farming, coal mining, and landfills. The MRS is part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, first announced by the White House in June 2013, and will utilize voluntary incentive-based programs as well as new regulatory measures under the executive branch’s existing regulatory authority. In addition, the MRS outlines plans to improve the quality of methane emission measurement and steps to reduce international methane emissions.

The core of the MRS is the announcement of a series of voluntary and regulatory measures intended to reduce methane emissions from the four major sources of methane emissions: 

Oil and Gas: The MRS detailed three steps to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry: 1.) EPA will issue a series of technical white papers in 2014 to solicit input from technical experts to assess “several potentially significant sources of methane emissions” and determine whether to pursue further methane emission reductions from those sources; 2.) BLM will propose updated venting and flaring standards for oil and gas operations on public lands; and 3.) the Administration will work to identify additional “downstream” methane reduction opportunities. 

Coal Mining: The Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) will issue an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit input on the development of a program for the capture and sale, or disposal, of waste methane emitted from coal mines on Federal lands. 

Landfills: EPA will propose more stringent methane emission standards for new landfills sometime in the summer of 2014. At the same time, EPA will solicit public comments on whether to update standards for existing landfills. EPA will also seek further emission reductions through the Landfill Methane Outreach Program, a voluntary program intended to partner with industry and state and local officials. 

Agriculture: In consultation with the dairy industry, the Department of Agriculture, EPA and the Department of Energy will issue a “Biogas Roadmap” outlining voluntary strategies to hasten the adoption of methane digesters and other technologies to reduce GHG emissions from the dairy industry by 25 percent by 2020. 

The MRS also included an outline of a plan to improve the ability to measure methane emissions across diverse sources and economic sectors. Specifically, the MRS calls for the development of new and improved measurement technologies, additional data collection and analysis for areas with high uncertainty, and enhancement of top-down modeling and monitoring based on direct measurement of atmospheric concentrations. 

Finally, the MRS sets out the Administration’s plans to reduce international methane emissions through two primary actions. First, the Administration will push for initiatives under the auspices of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (“CCAC”) to reduce landfilling in Africa, Asia and Latin America, reduce methane emissions from agriculture and livestock operations through best practices and improved policies and technologies, and help to launch the CCAC Oil and Gas Methane Partnership in 2014. Second, the Administration will work to leverage the U.S.’s technical expertise to reduce methane emissions through the Global Methane Initiative (“GMI”), a public-private initiative involving 43 partner countries, private industry, and multilateral organizations such as the World Bank. The GMI will focus on reductions in five key sectors: agriculture, coal mining, municipal solid waste, oil and gas systems, and municipal wastewater. 

Reactions to the MRS were mixed. A spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute questioned the need for new regulation of fuel extraction, noting that the regulations could a "chilling effect” and that there “built-in incentive to capture [methane] emissions” due to the potential resale profit. Environmental groups were generally supportive. The President of the Environmental Defense Fund hailed the President’s strategy as “smart roadmap for taking on the biggest sources of [methane] emissions.” However, the Sierra Club emphasized that the MRS does not reduce methane emissions enough to stave off the negative impacts of climate change.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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