US Climate Commitments have been made, what’s next?

Today President Joe Biden laid out his long awaited climate target, known as Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), for the United States reentry into the Paris Agreement. The NDC announced today commits the U.S. to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions over 50% by 2030–something Earthworks has long called for and which scientists say we must do to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. While it is undoubtedly a step forward, it does not meet the calls for the U.S. to do its “fair share” to account for the fact that developed countries have participated the most in the exploitation of resources, industrialization, and use of fossil fuels across the globe.

To make good on his promise on behalf of all Americans, the Biden administration must commit to using the full force of the Clean Air Act to cut methane pollution from oil and gas production 65% by 2025.

We are disappointed that the administration did not explicitly include cutting oil and gas methane emissions in his announcement today. In fact, the NDC only mentions the word “oil” once and it is in relation to agricultural “oil seeds”, even though fossil fuels are what’s driving the climate crisis. President Biden cannot make his climate commitments real without tackling methane pollution from the oil and gas and beginning a managed decline of fossil fuels.

Cutting methane is also the fast way for Biden to reach his commitments.

Methane from oil and gas is a low hanging fruit. Many oil and gas companies have already come out in support of reestablishing federal methane rules, which would help them solve a growing image problem. Additionally 50 investors with $4 trillion in assets have made it clear that tackling methane emissions makes financial sense.

Cutting methane is also the fast way for Biden to reach his commitments. Scientists say that cutting atmospheric methane concentrations in half alone would return greenhouse gases impacts to 2005 levels. EPA administrator Michael Regan has acknowledged this when he signaled that his administration will go beyond the Obama Administration’s 2016 oil and gas methane rules when they draft new regulations in September–as part of President Biden’s day 1 Executive Orders.

Now that the NDC is set, the Biden Administration will begin writing those rules and in doing so they must follow their own guidance to use every tool at their disposal including the full force of the Clean Air Act to cut methane emissions 65% by 2025. They can do that by enacting these common sense solutions, proposed by the Clean Air Task Force that require oil and gas companies:

  • Check for leaks and repair them once a month.
  • Replace old outdated equipment with newer options that reduce pollution.
  • Reduce venting and flaring from well sites.

Additionally Biden must begin to manage a decline of fossil fuel extraction and begin a just transition by providing energy workers with family sustaining jobs in the renewable sector–something that the United Mine Workers Union says they support

Along the way, the President should beware industry greenwashing and half-measures. Although many oil and gas companies and even the American Petroleum Institute have come out in favor of some form of federal oversight, the devil is in the details. Their recent support of carbon pricing in exchange for deregulation of all emissions protections is nothing more than a distraction. 

Though companies like Shell, BP, and EQT have come out in support of federal methane rules, their support remains intentionally vague and that matters. 

Simply reinstating Obama era rules, which may happen through a Congressional Review Act vote in Congress next week, will not provide the methane emissions cuts we need because the Obama era rules only apply to new sources. Even if the Obama era standards were applied to existing sources by the Biden administration, the reductions would fall dramatically short of the bold action needed to meet climate goals. 

Meeting the challenges of the climate crisis will not be easy and it will demand bold action, but there are no other options or short cuts. The roadmap to Glasgow is still not complete and that means many decisions are left to be made. We have faith that the administration understands the challenge and will act quickly to establish rules to cut methane emissions from oil and gas by 65% in the next five years.