Trump looks to roll back safeguards on methane pollution

A plume of exhaust extends from a coal-fired power plant on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pa. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty)
A plume of exhaust extends from a coal-fired power plant on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pa.

At a recent campaign rally in West Virginia, Donald Trump told supporters, "I want clean air. I want crystal clean water. And we've got it. We've got the cleanest country in the planet right now. There's nobody cleaner than us."

That's not even close to being true; the president just presented made-up nonsense as fact. But just as importantly, Trump neglected to mention the steps he's taking to make pollution an even bigger problem.

A couple of months ago, for example, the Trump administration proposed freezing fuel-efficiency and anti-pollution standards for cars. Last month, the administration announced plans to relax pollution rules for coal plants. And the New York Times  reported overnight that Trump's next move intends to make it "significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere."

Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome.The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirement that companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times. In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and "flaring," or burning, of methane from drilling operations.

Under existing policy, crafted by the Obama administration, energy companies are required to conduct inspections for leaks as frequently as every six months on their drilling equipment, and to repair leaks within 30 days. According to the draft obtained by the New York Times, the Trump administration would ease the burdens on polluters, requiring less frequent inspections and giving companies twice as much time to fix leaks.

The idea, evidently, is to help the oil and gas industry earn back most of the money the industry was poised to lose from the Obama era from environmental safeguards.

Of course, as TPM added, "[W]hile industries may be saving on costs, the Earth is not. According to the Times, methane is one of the most pernicious greenhouse gasses, and is highly effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere."

Ahead of the 2016 election, many who take the climate crisis seriously feared that Donald Trump's presidency would stall progress on combating global warming, at a time when action is desperately needed. But at least some of the rhetoric understated the problem: Trump isn't just giving up on addressing the crisis; he's taking deliberate steps to make the crisis worse.