EPA Finalizes Methane Emissions Rules, New Regs Fail to 'Stop Dangerous Methane Leaks From Existing Fracking Wells'
Following President Obama's promise to cut toxic methane leaks at oil and gas facilities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced the U.S. government's "first-ever" set of standards to reduce such emissions—but the new regulations were decried by environmentalist critics as not far-reaching enough.
"EPA's methane regulations are a welcome first step, but contain too many loopholes to be a comprehensive check on industry recklessness," warned Greenpeace researcher Charlie Cray.
Moreover, noted Cray, methane "is the fastest growing source of climate pollution in the U.S. In the first 20 years after it's released, methane is more than 85 times more powerful than CO2 in fueling climate chaos."
Oil and gas facilities are "the largest industrial source of methane," noted environmental legal defense group Earthjustice.
The EPA said that these latest rules were part of the Obama Administration's efforts to live up to the president's vow to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025.
"The methane rule is the final version of a draft regulation put forth last year by the Environmental Protection Agency," reports the New York Times, "and would require oil and gas companies to plug and capture leaks of methane from new and modified drilling wells and storage tanks, not older, existing wells."
The EPA is only just starting the information-gathering process to determine how to regulate existing wells, the agency says. Yet it is old, established fossil fuel infrastructure that is responsible for the vast majority of methane emissions in the U.S. and many environmentalists are irked that the new rules stop short of regulating those facilities.
"The only way to protect our communities from the risks of fracking and stave off the worst impacts of climate change, is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. This rule, which does nothing to stop dangerous methane leaks from existing fracking wells, was always wholly inadequate," said 350.org's executive director May Boeve.
"The vast majority of the problem lies in the oil and gas infrastructure that already exists across the country," wrote the Natural Resources Defense Council. "EPA must follow through on the President’s commitment to address these sources next and soon."
Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders joined fellow environmentalists in calling for an overall ban on fracking, rather than simply seeking to reduce methane leaks at fracking facilities:
Curbing methane leaks is a good step, but if we're serious about combatting climate change we must ban all fracking. https://t.co/I9osVpmvH6— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1463067357.0
EPA head Gina McCarthy defended the agency's rules from such criticism: "The commonsense steps we're rolling out today will help combat climate change and reduce air pollution that immediately harms public health," McCarthy told reporters on a conference call, according to Bloomberg. McCarthy characterized the new regulations as a "critical first step in tackling methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources."
The new regulations are a tougher version of those first proposed last year. The standards were updated in response to nearly 900,000 comments critiquing the original version released in August 2015, the EPA said.
The problem of methane leaks from fracking facilities was brought to harsh light in October, when a disastrous leak near Los Angeles' Porter Ranch neighborhood started spewing tens of thousands of kilograms of the toxic gas into the air every hour—an catastrophic event that lasted for months on end.
Despite such disasters, the fossil fuel industry defended its record on combating methane leaks and complained that the EPA's regulations were too strict.
"Overly prescriptive regulations that limit energy access will only make manufacturers less competitive and send investments and jobs to countries with less stringent environmental protections related to energy and greenhouse gases," said the National Association of Manufacturers in a press statement.
Earthjustice promised to defend the EPA's regulations from the fossil fuel industry's expected legal assault on the new rules.
"Earthjustice will defend this rule in court when the oil and gas industry tries to weaken it," the organization declared. "It's past time for oil and gas companies to embrace best practices that could make the difference between catastrophic climate change and a secure future on a livable planet."
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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