Just days after what he must have considered a better-than-expected outcome in the 2022 US elections, Pres. Joe Biden took the stage at the COP27 climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and announced an updated Methane Emissions Reduction Act Plan, including more than $20 billion in domestic methane mitigation. Updates made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) included requiring routine leak monitoring at every well site and compressor station and preventing emissions at abandoned and unplugged wells.
EPA says the updated plan will reduce 2030 methane emissions from covered sources by 87% from 2005 levels, up from 74% in the initial 2021 proposal. The agency also says the plan will yield $3.1-3.2 billion/year in net climate benefits and recover natural gas worth $3.3-4.6 billion through 2035 (based on forecast prices) that otherwise would have gone to waste.
The American Petroleum Institute remarked that it “looks forward to reviewing the proposed rule in its entirety and will continue to work with EPA in support of a final rule that is cost-effective, promotes innovation, and creates the regulatory certainty needed for long-term planning.” It also noted oil and gas industry methane emissions relative to production fell 60% from 2011 to 2020.
Speaking before Pres. Biden at COP27, the Republican delegation to the conference emphasized the role fossil fuels, in particular natural gas, could play in reducing emissions if the carbon resulting from their extraction and combustion could be economically captured and either stored or used.
In the immediate aftermath of the election, Republicans seemed most interested in wielding their recaptured ability to investigate the Biden administration across a wide array of topics. In the oil and gas space this included looking into the administration’s release of Strategic Petroleum Reserve inventories and its review process for loan guarantees extended as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.
But Republicans in the House of Representatives can also now craft oil and gas legislation of their own. It would pass in their chamber and it’s at least within the realm of possibility that it could clear the Senate, given the existence there of pro-industry Democrats.
Pres. Biden could still veto it of course. But if it was carefully crafted enough to deliver tangible benefits and well-timed enough to limit his willingness to do so, maybe he wouldn’t.
Younger Republicans are already waiting to see what the party does. A Pew Research Center survey conducted earlier this year found that 47% of 18- to 29-year-old respondents who identified as Republican agreed with the statement that “The government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.” This compared with 18% aged 65+. A full 64% of the younger cohort would support climate policies that “require power companies to use more renewable energy sources.”1 Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus and representative from the House district with the youngest population in the country, has been getting similar input from his constituents.
And all of this is happening against the backdrop of booming US crude production and petroleum exports. October production of 12.1 million b/d was the second highest since the March 2020 start of the pandemic. Net petroleum exports—crude and refined products—totaled 2.1 million b/d, the highest on record since 1947.
Sure, it might have been easier to get things to the President’s desk if Republicans had won both houses of Congress. But it also would have been easier for him to veto them out of pure partisanship.
The GOP has one of the levers of elected government back in its grasp. It’s time to see what it can do with it.
- Pew Research Center, “Younger Republicans particularly likely to say federal government is doing too little on the environment,” July 12, 2022.