Congress and the Biden Administration are taking the first steps to reduce emissions of two dangerous greenhouse gases: methane, which is emitted during natural gas extraction and by leaks from oil and gas wells, and hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning systems.
Both of these planet-warming gases are many times more potent than carbon dioxide, even though they don’t stay in the atmosphere as long. Scientists say dealing with them is critical to slowing the pace of global warming.
The Senate, using a rarely invoked law to reverse a Trump administration rollback on methane, essentially reinstated an Obama-era regulation imposing controls on leaks of methane from oil and gas wells. And the Environmental Protection Agency moved to implement new curbs on the production and importation of HFCs, which Congress approved late last year.
“By taking fast action on these short-lived climate pollutants, of which HFCs are the most potent, we can buy ourselves some time and actually help avoid climate tipping points,” said Kristen N. Taddonio, a senior climate and energy adviser for the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.
The 52-42 Senate vote reinstates the Oil and Natural Gas New Source Performance Standards, a handful of Obama-era regulations on methane emissions that were rolled back by former President Donald Trump in August 2020. The measure drew support from every Senate Democrat, as well as Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), who has opposed GOP efforts to deregulate methane emissions in the past; Lindsey Graham (R-SC); and Rob Portman (R-OH). The rule is expected to be taken up and passed by the House of Representatives in this month.
The standards alone won’t be sufficient to meet the president’s pledge to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2030 — a goal meant to help keep global warming this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but it represents an important step toward meeting that commitment, because methane is seen as a major driver of climate change.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the Senate’s move “one of the most important votes, not only that this Congress has cast but has been cast in the last decade, in terms of our fight against global warming.”
Progress and hope are back in the picture.