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Natural Gas Is Bad for Climate Change. Trump’s Methane Proposal Makes It Worse.

On Thursday, the Trump administration proposed rolling back rules requiring oil and gas companies to inspect for and fix methane leaks from fossil fuel infrastructure.

If it goes through, the rule change will mean more global warming pollution, at a time when we must be doing everything in our power to limit it. The Obama Administration estimated that its methane rule would prevent more than 170,000 tons of CO2 equivalent pollution per year. Curbing methane emissions is important because the gas is a 28 times more potent global warming pollutant than CO2 over a 100-year time horizon, and an 84 times more potent pollutant over 20 years.[1]

But concern about the proposed rule shouldn’t distract us from the fundamental, ugly truth about natural gas: Even if it were produced with no leaks at all, it is a fossil fuel that makes global warming worse – and thus moving off natural gas must be a key part of the nation’s response to the climate crisis.

A typical, large gas-fired power plant emits more than one million metric tons of CO2 pollution in a year.[2] Wind and solar plants, on the other hand, emit no pollution. In addition to combustion emissions, methane leaks from the production, processing and transportation of gas add even more pollution. According to EPA estimates (which are likely low), in 2017 natural gas systems leaked 6.6 million metric tons of methane. Based on a 20-year horizon, those leaks had a global warming impact equivalent to 10 percent of all U.S. CO­2 emissions in 2017.[3]

The good news is that communities around the U.S. are already taking steps to reduce natural gas dependence for electricity and heating. For example, more than 130 cities have committed to – or already achieved – 100 percent renewable electricity goals, and states including New Mexico, California, and New York have made similar commitments. And some communities are starting to look toward eliminating natural gas infrastructure altogether: Berkeley, California, recently banned natural gas from new buildings.

These efforts were critical before, and they are critical now. Whatever happens with the Trump Administration’s proposal, the U.S. needs to get off gas – and to do it quickly.

Image: Staff photo

[1] See page 714 of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, available at https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WG1AR5_Chapter08_FINAL.pdf.

[2] In 2017, 173 natural gas power plants emitted at least 1 million metric tons of CO2: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/emissions/

[3] Derived from applying a global warming potential of 84 to the 6.6 million metric tons of natural gas system methane emissions from 2017. See Table 2-2 of the U.S. Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2017, available at https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-04/documents/us-ghg-inventory-2019-main-text.pdf.