GLASGOW, Scotland – The Biden administration announced new rules Tuesday to limit methane emissions from oil and gas drilling as well as actions aimed at protecting forests globally, part of a series of measures unveiled by the White House while President Joe Biden appears at the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit in Scotland.
As part of Biden’s plan to curb methane gas emissions, a new Environmental Protection Agency rule will expand and strengthen measures to regulate leak detection and repairs for the oil and gas industry. The rule follows through on an executive order Biden signed on his first day of office.
“It’s one of the most potent greenhouse gases there is,” Biden said before world leaders at the summit. “It amounts to about half the warming we’re experiencing today – just methane exposure.”
The U.S. and more than 90 countries have signed a pledge to reduce methane emissions, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, by 30% below 2020’s level by 2030.
“And I think we could probably go beyond that,” Biden said.
The White House estimates that the EPA rule will cover about 75% of all methane emissions in the U.S. The Department of the Interior is also planning a new rule to disincentive venting to dispose of gas.
Biden at COP26:‘None of us can escape the worst that is yet to come’
In addition, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will propose a series of new regulations to cover about 400,000 miles of previously unregulated pipelines including new safety requirements, mandatory inspections and oversight of leaks. A separate PHMSA rule will target 2.3 million miles of gas pipes in cities that have previously gone unregulated.
Biden announced a new initiative to work with farmers and ranchers to promote “climate-smart agricultural practices” to reduce methane on farms. A separate EPA initiative seeks to reduce food loss and waste at municipal landfills, another major source of methane in the U.S.
“This is all part of our new methane strategy, which focuses on reducing the largest source of methane emissions while putting thousands of skilled workers on the job all across the United States and I expect in your countries as well,” Biden said.
He added, “It isn’t just something we have to do” but “an enormous opportunity.”
Biden’s presence at the high-stakes COP26 summit, aimed at tackling the warming planet, comes as he’s been unable to get his climate agenda approved at home, with Democrats in Congress still divided over his $1.75 trillion spending package.
On the first day of the summit, Biden touted his “Build Back Better” proposal as “the most significant investment to deal with the climate crisis that any advanced nation has made, ever.” But until it passes, Biden must rely largely on executive authority for his biggest climate splashes.
COP26 runs until Nov. 12. Biden returns to Washington later Tuesday.
Biden’s plan to conserve forests includes a commitment of up to $9 billion of U.S international climate funding to the effort by 2030.
Other components involve incentives for forest conservation and restoration, and efforts aimed at increasing private investment and data collections for forest protection.
More than 100 world leaders appearing in Glasgow have committed to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 in what effectively amounts to COP26’s first major international agreement. Depleted forests accelerate climate change because forests help absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide.
“Forests are our critical allies in the fight against climate change – home to more than three quarters of life on land, including millions of people who depend on forests for their livelihoods. It’s great to see world leaders listening to the science and recognizing nature as crucial to delivering 1.5 Celsius,” said Tanya Steele, chief executive of the World WildLife Fund’s U.K office, referring to the global temperature limit targeted by climate negotiators in Glasgow.
In brief remarks Tuesday to world leaders, Biden said preserving forests is an “indispensable” part of his climate agenda. “We need to approach this issue with the same seriousness of purpose as decarbonizing our economy.”
To push for greater innovation, Biden plans to also announce a new “movers coalition” with 25 founding members from technology and other industries – including major companies such as Apple – that will each make commitments on clean energy. He will push companies to use renewable energy to offset electricity demand through a new procurement platform that businesses can access.
The president will also highlight a “sustainable agriculture sector” and a “next generation of nuclear technology” as key pieces of growing the clean technology economy, the officials said.
Greta Thunberg critical of COP26
Other summit news suggested scaled-back ambitions.
India pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero – carbon neutral – by 2070, missing the U.S. and European Union target by 20 years. India is the world’s fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter after China, the U.S. and the EU. China has pledged to hit net zero by 2060, ten years after the U.S. and EU goal.
And climate activist Greta Thunberg appeared at a demonstration on Monday in Glasgow, during which she told assembled protesters and media that leaders and diplomats at COP26 were only “pretending to take our future seriously.”
She said that “change is not going to come from inside there,” referring to the sprawling COP26 venue on the banks of Glasgow’s River Clyde.
“This COP26 is so far just like the previous COPs and that led us nowhere. They have led us nowhere,” she said. “Inside COP there are just politicians and people in power pretending to take our future seriously, pretending to take seriously the people who are already being affected today by the climate crisis.”
Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity nonprofit organization, said Biden’s announcement on new methane rules was important. However, she said that “cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector isn’t enough to meet science-based climate targets without also limiting fossil fuel production. If Biden wants to be a true climate leader, he needs to set a near-zero methane leakage rate and end new oil and gas project approvals to avoid cataclysmic warming.”
Still, Debbie Sariñana, a Democrat in the New Mexico House of Representatives, said the summit for her also represented an opportunity to “listen and learn from one another.” A high school math teacher, Sariñana is hoping Congress passes Biden’s climate package, but she’s also traveled to Glasgow to seek ways to get her students excited and energized about a topic that can for some feel abstract and remote despite the fact that New Mexico is home to many conventional fossil fuel power plants.
“We have to address the urgency of this,” she said. “We need to be able to show our kids how urgent this is. The president should declare a climate emergency.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison, Kim Hjelmgaard @khjelmgaard