Climate policies should be comprehensive | Don Brunell

The flurry of climate regulations coming out of federal agencies is an example of what to avoid. Whether those new rules are based on laws enacted by Congress is questionable.

Case in point:

American Highway Users Alliance, a diverse group of organizations representing transportation, vehicle manufacturers, and energy trade associations, questioned the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) legal authority to impose greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirements on state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations.

The Alliance is convinced even if legal authority was justified, there are several reasons why the new stringent standards are inappropriate, unnecessary, and duplicative of other requirements.

As part of the new GHG rules for oil and gas, FHWA is working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose new limits on methane gas. In 2014, methane accounted for about 11 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Human activities include landfills, manufacturing, waste water treatment, burning of fossil fuels and biomass, and agriculture. Wetlands are the largest natural source. Smaller ones include termites, oceans, sediments, volcanoes, and wildfires.

According to EPA, methane, the “key constituent of natural gas,” is a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.

Even though it breaks down after approximately 10 years, EPA says methane is the second most prevalent GHG emitted in the United States from human activities, and nearly one-third of those emissions come from oil extracting and refining; and, the production, transmission and distribution of natural gas.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy stated the Administration’s strategy under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.

But is this piecemeal approach appropriate, achievable and affordable considering the other contributing human-related and natural sources?

Last March, researchers from Germany’s Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) found of the rise in global methane emissions between 2007 and 2014 is from natural or agricultural sources and cannot be attributed to oil and gas.

Furthermore, methane emissions from oil and natural gas represent only 3.4 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. and .005 percent worldwide.

When considering government regulations as sweeping as EPA’s methane standard, it is important to look at all emissions carefully.

For example, about a third of methane comes from wetlands, wildfires and ocean seepage—natural sources. In 2014, the U.S. Geological Survey even found methane emanating from 600 Atlantic sea floor locations from Cape Hatteras, N.C., to Georges Bank off of Nantucket, Mass.

Russia’s West Siberia is home to the world’s largest expanse of peatlands which covers an area nearly the size of Texas. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the vast area contains 70 billion metric tons of thawing methane “equal to about 16 percent of all the carbon added to the atmosphere from fossil fuel combustion, land-use changes, and cement manufacturing over the course of the last 150 years (1850-2000).”

The concern is as the climate changes and warms, higher volumes of methane will be released from places where methane is encased in ice.

Methane gas has been in our atmosphere since the beginning of time. It has peaked and ebbed with the intensity of human and natural activities.

Our federal government should pursue legally authorized regulations which protect our environment and health. Our public policies should be thoroughly researched and well vetted before being committed to writing. They must consider all related factors.

We need to continue to develop and deploy the best technology available. All that takes time and a strong commitment to open-minded approaches.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.