Joe Biden wants to be remembered for being the first president to get serious about climate change. On the campaign trail, Biden centered climate issues as one of the primary tenets of his platform. In office, he has pushed hard to approve massive infrastructure and spending bills which would include huge provisions for the country’s green energy transition and carbon capture capacities. He had almost certainly hoped to walk onto the world stage at COP26 with a concrete plan of action to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint and some bills under his belt to put the United States at the forefront of climate action. But despite the Biden administration’s best efforts, this dream has not come to fruition.
The infrastructure and spending bills that have become such an integral part of the Biden administration’s agenda have been (somewhat predictably) tied up in U.S. Congress for months. At first, the bills were subject to a lengthy bipartisan struggle. Now, they’re being held up by progressive Democrats who don’t want to see the bill gutted in order to push it through the Senate. It has been predicted that the bills will finally be passed this week, while the President is in Glasgow for the climate summit.
In the meantime, the United States has unveiled a brand new measure to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. This plan focuses not on curbing carbon dioxide emissions, but instead targets methane -- a greenhouse gas which does not last as long as CO2 in the atmosphere but which has a greenhouse effect 80 times more potent. “The announcement coincided with the U.N. climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, where the United States, the world's second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, is seeking to reclaim leadership on the world stage by demonstrating tangible steps to curb emissions at home,” Reuters reported this week.
Drawing attention to methane emissions is hugely relevant to the United States economy, far and away the largest producer of shale oil and gas in the world. Natural gas has long been touted as a sort of stepping stone away from dirtier fossil fuels on the road toward decarbonization, as it produces less carbon dioxide than coal or oil. However, a recent study published in Nature shows that natural gas is not nearly as clean as we had previously thought, in large part thanks to the energy source’s significant methane emissions.
“Methane’s atmospheric concentrations have increased by at least 150 percent since the Industrial Revolution,” National Geographic reported in response to the Nature study. “Because of its potency, the more of it there is in the air the harder it will be to keep the planet’s temperatures from soaring past global climate goals.”
Now, President Biden is partnering with the European Union to create a new international pact which would pledge to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by 2030. The pact would be co-signed by over 100 countries. The United States plans to make good on its part of the bargain by way of a novel Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to require oil and gas companies to aggressively and proactively track down and fix methane leaks, a common occurrence in the industry which produces a third of all methane emissions.
"The timing of this is critical. As we speak, world leaders are gathering right now in Glasgow and they are looking to the United States for true leadership," EPA Administrator Michael Regan was quoted by Reuters. "This proposal is absolutely bold, aggressive and comprehensive." This measure will also likely be enacted around the same time as a renewal of “superfund taxes” on petroleum companies in the United States based on the Polluter Pays Principle, further encouraging oil and gas companies to clean up their act.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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