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WASHINGTON, July 25 (Reuters) - The internal watchdog of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday that the regulator does not adequately address methane leaks from natural gas pipelines, harming both the economy and environment.
The EPA Inspector General said the agency's current voluntary program to address methane leaks from pipelines has yielded only minimal reductions of the potent greenhouse gas.
As well as contributing to climate change, the report said, more than $192 million worth of natural gas was lost in 2011 due to such leaks, increasing prices paid by consumers.
The report recommended that the EPA partner with the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to improve oversight over methane leaks. President Barack Obama has called for such a partnership, but the agency has not yet taken such a move.
The president's 2013 climate action plan said addressing methane emissions was "critical to our overall effort to address global climate change."
The report also recommended the EPA develop a strategy to address the financial and policy issues that hinder reducing emissions from distribution pipelines.
The EPA agreed to that suggestion, but did not agree to tackle other recommendations from the IG's office, including setting performance goals and tracking sector emissions to decide whether regulation would be necessary.
To see the entire IG report, click on: here
A report earlier this week from the AFL-CIO labor union and the BlueGreen Alliance said the United States should replace leak-prone pipelines every 10 years instead of the 30-year period that is now standard.
The report said the more aggressive timetable could create 300,000 jobs and save consumers $1.5 billion in charges for lost gas. Over 30 years, such a move would prevent 81 million tonnes in greenhouse gas emissions - the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road for a year - the report said.
To see the AFL-CIO/BlueGreen Alliance report, click on: here
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny and Dan Grebler