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EPA head Michael Regan on U.S. plan to tame methane emissions


At the big climate summit underway in Glasgow, the big focus today is on methane. It's a greenhouse gas, one we tend to hear less about than carbon dioxide. But methane is responsible for a third of the warming from greenhouse gases today - one-third. And in the short term, it can warm the atmosphere 80 times as fast as carbon dioxide. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans today for new rules, including limits on the methane coming from oil and gas rigs. And here to talk about how that might work, the head of the EPA, Michael Regan.

Mr. Regan, welcome.

MICHAEL REGAN: Well, thank you for having me.

KELLY: So methane - second-worst culprit when it comes to greenhouse gases warming our planet. And yet we do hear so much less about it than carbon dioxide. Why? Why has it taken so long to build a sense of urgency here?

REGAN: Well, you know, the president has had a sense of urgency from day one and asked the EPA to closely examine what we could do with this highly potent greenhouse gas. And listen. We are excited to announce that we are taking bold and aggressive action to tackle climate pollution while protecting overburdened communities by looking at ways to get deep cuts in methane emissions.

KELLY: So the message you are putting out there is that this problem is urgent, that you want to take bold and aggressive action, to use your words. I wonder how the oil and natural gas industry responds. What are you hearing from them?

REGAN: Well, you know, from day one with this administration, we've been transparent about the pursuit of reducing emissions. And we've heard from the industry that there needs to be some rules of engagement. So we're actually building the innovation from across the oil and gas industry that will help spur new solutions to reduce pollution using advanced technologies and save on costs.

KELLY: Well, and I'm asking in part because these are proposed rules. I was reading a statement from the American Petroleum Institute - that's an oil and gas lobby group. ExxonMobil, Chevron - they are members. In their statement, they say they're looking forward to working with you, quote, "to help shape a final rule that is effective, feasible and designed to encourage further innovation," end quote. It sounds like they still think there's a lot of wiggle room before you get to a final rule or set of rules. Is there?

REGAN: Well, you know, this is a proposed rule. And we are taking comment on various aspects of how we execute this rule. We're taking comment on the types of technologies that we would like to see and that the industry would like to have accessibility to. So there is an opportunity for us to continue to build a strong technical record on which technologies are available, so that we can get the deep emission cuts that we're looking for.

KELLY: So what is the timing here? How do you square that with the sense of urgency?

REGAN: You know, we're going to move through the proposed phase as quickly as possible, but we take comment on the rule. We will take time to build those comments in. And we are looking forward to issuing a final rule very quickly. You know, there is a sense of urgency here.

KELLY: Like, by end of the year? Or when are we talking?

REGAN: I'm sorry?

KELLY: By the end of this year? Or can you give me some kind of ballpark timeframe?

REGAN: We're looking at early next year.


REGAN: Early next year, we will have a final rule that we can move forward that protects the climate but also protects vulnerable communities that are located in close proximity to these oil and gas refineries as well.

KELLY: Do you have the teeth at EPA to enforce these rules? And I'm asking because the U.S. has, of course, made promises before to reduce emissions, to address climate change. The Paris Agreement comes to mind. And then those promises have been broken. Why should other nations trust the U.S. this time?

REGAN: You know, EPA has clear statutory authority to pursue rules such as this one. And we've been very transparent. We've engaged our environmental partners. We've been - we've engaged the environmental justice community. We've engaged in industry. And so we've been very transparent about the bold and aggressive action that we're taking. And we're taking comment on our approach. And like I said, we're going to continue to receive feedback, really shape this rule so that it's very doable. And we're looking forward to having something final next year.

KELLY: Just a few seconds left, sir. But as you know, more than 90 countries have signed this global methane pledge. Notably absent would be India, Russia, China, some big players here in terms of global pollution. How meaningful is this pledge without them on board?

REGAN: You know, this pledge is meaningful. We are exerting leadership. This proposed rule - we have 70% reduction in methane by 2030 just in the United States alone. We're going to demonstrate that the technology exists, is cost-effective, and other countries will fall in line.

KELLY: That is EPA Administrator Michael Regan. Thank you so much for your time.

Good to speak with you.

REGAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Michael Levitt
Justine Kenin
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
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