Trump Administration Rolls Back Greenhouse Gas Regulations So Far Even Oil Companies Object

Just two days after President Donald Trump called himself an "environmentalist," his administration announced a rollback of methane gas emissions regulations so large that even oil companies are objecting to the change.

In the proposed rule change, released by the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday morning, the agency would end a federal regulation that requires gas and oil companies to use technology to inspect for and repair methane leaks in their infrastructure. This would leave large segments of the oil and gas industry entirely uncontrolled with no pollution limits. Methane emissions are known to cause climate change.

The administration estimates that the rollbacks will save the oil and gas industry $17 to 19 million a year.

But oil and gas bigwigs don't support the change. Susan Dio, the chairwoman and president of BP America, wrote an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle in March where she claimed it was essential that the EPA regulate methane gasses.

"It's the right thing to do for the planet," she wrote. "The best way to help further reduce and ultimately eliminate methane emissions industry wide is through direct federal regulation of new and existing sources."

ExxonMobil wrote a letter to the EPA last year, asking them to keep methane regulations intact, and Gretchen Watkins, the U.S. chairwoman for Shell, said in March that the EPA should keep rules in place to regulate methane production.

US President Donald Trump listens as Environmetal Protection Agency admistrator Andrew Wheeler speaks about the administration's environmental policies at the White House in Washington, DC on July 8, 2019. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP/Getty

A lot of these executives are focused on regulating future emissions of methane. That's because red tape, or regulatory rules, often work to benefit larger, long standing companies who have the money and infrastructure to abide by them. They work as a natural barrier to keep new upstarts out of the industry. These companies have already spent significant funds putting technology in place to lower their emissions and even more money convincing the American company that natural gas is a good, clean energy alternative.

The administration's new rule change could hurt the entire industry. "The reputation of American natural gas is at the precipice, and methane rollbacks are the shove," Ben Ratner, a senior director with the Environmental Defense Fund, told The New York Times.

But it's likely that smaller companies, however, will benefit, at least temporarily, from this particular rollback. Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, told the Times that while it's easier for large companies to deal with federal regulations simply because they have the money to do so, ordinarily "for these small businesses, it's a very different economic impact." But the level-field and barriers to entry will now be a bit more even for companies who can't afford large infrastructure or technological changes.

"This proposal is a blatant attempt to give oil and gas companies yet another free pass to release as much harmful air pollution as they want while the public pays the price," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in an emailed statement. The cost of climate change is expected to cost the U.S. about $224 billion more per year by 2090, according to Trump's own EPA.

Methane is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., after carbon dioxide. Methane makes up about 10 percent of all greenhouse emissions coming out of the country, but initially has about 86 times more power to trap heat in the atmosphere than CO₂.

The EPA rule change will be open to comment by the public and interested parties for 60 days before it's finalized.

Donald Trump said during a Monday press conference at the G7 summit in France that he was, "an environmentalist. A lot of people don't understand that." The president also said he knows "more about the environment than most people." In the past, the president has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. This is the seventh time the Trump administration has attempted to rollback regulations against oil and gas pollution.