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What does the federal methane regulation rollback mean?

The Trump administration announced this week that it had finalized a rollback of an Obama-era climate rule on methane emissions — a move that was condemned by environmental groups. Tim Puko, who reports on energy policy for the Wall Street Journal, joins Hari Sreenivasan to explain the rule and its potential impact.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The Trump administration announced this week that it had finalized the rollback of an Obama-era climate rule on methane emissions. For more on what that means, I spoke with Tim Puko, who reports on energy policy for The Wall Street Journal.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tim, tell me, what are the regulations that either we're passing or rolling back? What's the change?

  • Tim Puko:

    There were rules that the Obama administration had approved back in 2016 that required oil and gas producers to specifically monitor for leaks of methane and fix those leaks. That requirement is going away. The rules still do include other requirements that are likely to get oil and gas companies to still capture a lot of those emissions, but they don't have to look for methane anymore.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What was the rationale in rolling these regulations back?

  • Tim Puko:

    The Trump administration wanted to help smaller and mid-sized oil companies. They were pretty open about that, you know, a lot of these drillers work on tight margins. A lot of them have pretty low producing wells that don't bring in a ton of cash.

    And as you can imagine, to put sophisticated monitoring systems or to send people around into far-flung places to check for these leaks can be kind of expensive. And the administration wanted to cut those expenses for those companies. They also said that that changing the rules in this way gives companies more flexibility to manage this in whatever way suits them.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is there a ripple effect here? I mean, we're talking just about methane, but are there other kinds of greenhouse gas emissions for different types of polluters that could be impacted by either the regulations that were in place from the Obama administration or what the Trump administration is trying to do?

  • Tim Puko:

    Yes, absolutely. The Trump administration is playing a much bigger game here. The immediate implications are for oil and gas companies and these emissions of methane. They were the first climate rules that were ever applied to oil and gas.

    But, of course, you've seen major rules issued for power plants and for cars and trucks. This rule on oil and gas companies was thought to be a further foray and that rules on manufacturers broadly, cement makers, a whole host of other heavy industries, might follow.

    There is some legal maneuvering that the Trump administration is doing which they hope stops that, that prevents any of these other industries from having greenhouse gas mandates put on it.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Say, in January if there is a different president in power. What happens to this rule change?

  • Tim Puko:

    It could very well go away. There is a widespread sense, even among Republicans and industry allies, that if the president doesn't win reelection, a lot of these rollbacks are in question. All of them, I believe, are being sued in court. Certainly the vast majority of them.

    So, yeah, there is a lot at stake in this election on whether this rule and many other rollbacks related to climate from the administration actually stick.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Help put the methane rollback in perspective on all of the different types of things that the Trump administration has done in their attempts to roll back Obama-era administrative rules.

  • Tim Puko:

    This is the culmination of sorts. To go back to the Obama administration, there were three big climate rules that they passed. I alluded to the other two. The first was the Clean Power Plan for power plants. The second were rules to limit emissions from cars and trucks. And then, of course, the methane rule was the first-ever climate bill for oil and gas.

    So when the Trump administration came in, their top priorities at EPA were to get rid of or at least substantially roll back all three of those.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Tim Puko of The Wall Street Journal, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Tim Puko:

    Thank you.

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