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The Biden Administration’s Contradictory Methane Fee
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Nirati Iyer

Feb 08, 2024

While appearing to make a bold move to limit companies in their methane emissions, is the Biden Administration sending a contradictory message regarding climate action?

In recent months, the Biden Administration has undertaken significant steps to address methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, unveiling a comprehensive strategy to combat climate change. This multi-faceted approach involves regulatory actions, innovative fee structures and approval of major projects, raising both optimism and skepticism. 

One key development is the EPA's methane rule, issued in December 2023, which targets methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations. The rule, a product of the administration's commitment to environmental change, establishes emission limits and standards for both new and existing sources. 

Simultaneously, the Biden administration introduced a fee on excess methane emissions from oil and gas companies. As the first federal price on greenhouse gas pollution, it signifies an effort to make progress. Companies are expected to pay a fee for emitting methane, with penalties that could amount to millions of dollars. This approach aims not only to reduce emissions but also to fund initiatives for improved monitoring and leak detection, an investment in the transition to cleaner practices.

However, the proposed fees have evoked divergent reactions. Environmental advocates praise this step forward, while industry groups express concerns about the complexity and potential economic ramifications. The debate extends to the reliance on self-reporting by energy producers, with environmental groups warning against inaccuracies in reported data.

Adding a layer of complexity is the approval of the Willow Project in early 2023, a massive oil drilling venture in Alaska. While the Biden administration champions methane reduction, this approval contradicts earlier pledges to end new oil and gas drilling on public lands. The project's potential to generate significant carbon pollution conflicts with the broader commitment to combat climate change - it has the potential to generate 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over its lifetime. This highlights the battle to balance domestic energy production with progressive climate goals.

While 130 metric tons does not seem impactful compared to potentially removing 1.5 billion tons of CO2, there are several underlying issues with these contradictory actions.  First, removing CO2 while emitting more--no matter how much--slows down the path toward the overarching goal of reducing and reversing climate damage. In addition, trust and cooperation between the people, corporations and government are imperative for any change, and such conflicting climate decisions hinder cooperation. There are no guaranteed results from the methane regulations, thus the complexity brought on by contradictory environmental actions should be addressed.

Biden's methane plan offers promising steps with regulations and fees, but the approval of the Willow Project clouds progress. Balancing climate goals with energy needs requires difficult choices, and fostering trust through transparent actions is crucial to achieving lasting impact.

Sources:

“Biden-Harris Administration Announces Proposed Rule to Reduce Wasteful Methane Emissions from the Oil and Gas Sector to Drive Innovation and Protect Communities.” US EPA, 12 Jan. 2024, https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/biden-harris-administration-announces-proposed-rule-reduce-wasteful-methane-emissions


“EPA Finalizes Rule to Eliminate Methane Leaks from Oil and Gas Sector.” Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, https://climate.law.columbia.edu/content/epa-finalizes-rule-eliminate-methane-leaks-oil-and-gas-sector


Dally, Matthew. “EPA proposes ‘methane fee’ for waste generated by oil and natural gas companies.” PBS, 12 Jan. 2024,

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/epa-proposes-methane-fee-for-waste-generated-by-oil-and-natural-gas-companies


Cohen, Steve. “President Biden’s Environmental Record.” State of the Planet, 5 June 2023, https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2023/06/05/president-bidens-environmental-record/


Lashof, Dan. “Tracking Progress: Climate Action Under the Biden Administration.” World Resources Institute, 29 Jan. 2024, https://www.wri.org/insights/biden-administration-tracking-climate-action-progress

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