In a week of stunning news (de-fund the Post Office to prevent mail-in votes, disenfranchising voters??), a staggering notice from the EPA may have escaped peoples’ attention—and it’s simply one of over 100 environmental regulations weakened since 2016. Their plan to eliminate methane regulation will release an estimated 850,000 tons of the planet-warming gas into the atmosphere during the next 10 years. And their excuse? To save the oil and gas industry, the largest source of methane emissions, about $100 million a year through 2030. Meaning: we are not channeling money to the hungry nor unemployed, but to the fossil fuel billionaires, not coincidentally big financial backers of the current administration.
“Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas. But when it’s released before it burns, say from a leaky valve at a drilling site, it’s far more potent than carbon dioxide,” reported npr.org on August 13. Here’s the irony: while smaller oil and gas companies do find the costs of regulation excessive, the big producers don’t even want the concession. “The negative impacts of leaks and fugitive emissions have been widely acknowledged for years, so it’s frustrating and disappointing to see the administration go in a different direction,” said Gretchen Watkins, Shell Oil’s US president.
She sounds like Pope Francis, who said in “Laudato Si”: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay” # 165. Scientists say we have 11 years to limit global warming to a maximum increase of 1.5 degrees C, or risk catastrophic loss of lives. The proposed addition of methane, along with the other gases, could warm the atmosphere by 3-4 degrees. And many scientists believe methane leaks are 2 to 3 times higher than the EPA estimates!
Even for one whose science background is as pathetic as mine, a basic understanding means that the greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) trap the sun’s heat, melting the polar ice caps and warming the oceans. Most of the emissions are CO2, but methane, in its first 20 years in the atmosphere, is 84 times more potent. Most know the disastrous effects. As sea levels rise, the weather that results leads to drought in places, and massive flooding that could destroy coastal areas and islands.
Signs of hope: state regulations, the industry’s policing itself since leaks are expensive and dangerous, investors’ sensitivity to bad PR, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund’s plans to sue, the hope of a more far-sighted president taking office in January. As for the agency designed to protect the environment? “Give an account of your stewardship.”
Why does a blog about spirituality veer precipitously into science? For the answer, see next week…