WASHINGTON, April 9 (Reuters) - The Biden administration’s curbs on methane from the U.S. oil and gas industry will be more ambitious than those imposed by former President Barack Obama and will go a long way to helping the United States achieve its overall targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, the nation’s top environmental regulator told Reuters.
The comments provide a sense of President Joe Biden’s ambition to limit output of the powerful greenhouse as it drafts new rules for release later this year. Ex-President Donald Trump had scrapped Obama-era rules requiring oil and gas companies cut the sector's methane emissions 45% below 2012 levels by 2025.
"There's lot of room to be more ambitious because the markets have evolved, the technology has evolved and companies now understand the urgency and are more willing to discuss that today than they were previously," Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan said in an interview late Thursday.
Oil industry group American Petroleum Institute, who had lobbied heavily to stop the Obama administration from regulating methane, earlier this year said it supports regulation as public support for climate measures grew.
He said he expects reductions in U.S. methane emissions to account for a "significant piece of the pie" in terms of the total greenhouse gas emissions that the Biden administration intends to cut by 2030. The administration has said it will unveil its 2030 targets under the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change on or before April 22.
"We're laser focused on methane and how we limit methane emissions from natural gas operations nationwide," he said.
Methane accounts for some 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with most of it coming from the energy industry in the form of leaks from pipelines and other infrastructure or deliberate venting or flaring.
NOAA released a report earlier this week showing a surge in methane concentrations last year in spite of the pandemic.
The other top sources are agriculture and waste management, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Biden has said he wants the United States to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through a sweeping transformation of the economy, an about-face from Trump who downplayed global warming and sought to slash regulatory red tape that hindered fossil fuel development.
As part of Biden's plan, the EPA also plans to release new vehicle emission standards by July, and impose tougher limits on carbon emissions from power plants. Transport and power are the leading U.S. sources of greenhouse gases.
Regan, formerly North Carolina's top environmental regulator and now the first African American man to lead the EPA, said the agency will also toughen enforcement of clean air and water regulations as part of a new focus on ensuring minority and low-income communities are not overburdened by pollution.
"We're looking at ways to obtain early relief for these affected communities such ordering monitoring or transparency measures or looking at ways we can obtain restitution for victims of environmental infractions," he said, adding he hopes to increase enforcement staff and monitoring technology to do site inspections.
Last month, the EPA revoked an expansion permit for the Limetree Bay oil refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands, citing concerns about existing pollution.
Regan did not say whether other facilities will face a similar fate but said delivering environmental justice will be "within the very DNA" of the agency and will guide rulemakings and grant decisions, as well as contracting and procurement.
The administrator also said he will prioritize replacing lead pipes and upgrading the nation's water infrastructure.
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