President Obama will announce a series of executive actions on Tuesday designed to tackle the increasing problem of methane leaks from natural gas pipelines, which are significantly contributing to global warming, according to a White House press call.
White House Director of Energy and Climate Change Dan Utech told reporters on Monday that the actions would be part of President Obama’s strategy to cut methane emissions, a key directive under his Climate Action Plan announced last summer. Under the plan, Obama vowed to combat climate change despite inaction from Congress by using his executive powers to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Utech said the executive actions would consist of newly announced partnerships with natural gas producers, a $30 million Department of Energy program supporting technology to decrease methane leaks, and a series of white papers from the Environmental Protection Agency to help identify “potentially significant” sources of methane beyond pipeline leaks.
Utech also said the President would announce a framework to change the existing program encouraging natural gas companies to reduce their methane emissions voluntarily. Attempting to improve that voluntary compliance program is especially timely, as the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general last week released a report finding it woefully inadequate in preventing leaks from the natural gas industry.
Natural gas is mostly methane, and methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas — some 86 times as effective at trapping heat as carbon dioxide. Though natural gas has been touted as a low-emissions “bridge fuel” to help transition the U.S. electricity market away from polluting sources such as crude oil and coal, scientists have shown that even very low leakage of methane from the system can wipe out its climate advantages over coal power for decades.
As ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm points out, the recent scientific literature — based on actual measurements of methane — reveals that methane leakage in the United States is actually quite high. According to the EPA’s Inspector General, more than $192 million worth of natural gas was lost in 2011 due to leaks in pipelines.
ClimateProgress will have more on the executive actions as they are announced.