EPA nixes ‘grandfathering’

Reporters and editors don’t especially like big, boring problems – they can be difficult to explain, taking up a lot of words and lacking dramatic photos and illustrations. So kudos to Slate for pulling out this new EPA rule nugget that actually matters – a lot.

But the new methane rule goes beyond merely undoing the damage of the Trump years. The proposal is broader than its Obama-era predecessors, and once finalized, will apply to hundreds of thousands of previously unregulated emission sources, like wells, storage tanks, and compressor stations. That is because unlike the prior standards, Biden’s rule will cover equipment of all ages. EPA thus avoids a key conceptual error that has undercut agency initiatives for over five decades under administrations of both parties: The old rules regulated only new facilities, while exempting older ones from emission limits. In contrast, Biden’s rule covers new and old emitters alike.

And methane, the primary ingredient in natural gas, is a big problem. The gas has a startlingly powerful greenhouse effect when released directly into the atmosphere, trapping 86 times more heat over a 20-year period than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. As a result, while methane accounts for only 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is responsible for almost a third of current, human-caused warming. And here in the United States, oil and gas installations are the largest industrial source of methane, due both to leaks and intentional venting during the production process.

The Obama administration recognized the need to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector back in 2016 and crafted regulations to do so. But those restrictions applied only to equipment constructed in 2015 or later, leaving the vast majority of the sector’s sources and emissions uncontrolled.

This story was troublingly familiar. Regulating new sources of pollution strictly and existing sources laxly or not at all is known as “grandfathering.” The EPA has engaged in the practice before, with disastrous results. Indeed, we wrote an entire book about the terrible consequences of exempting existing power plants from 1970s emission limits on soot- and smog-forming pollutants.

On the subject of other troublesome old mistakes, the EPA had no comment about toxic emissions emanating from all the crazy uncles still out there. Sources say they continue to study the issue.

Planet Split Over Plan to Support Human Life

In the category of parallel universes, consensus continues to jell around the idea that measures to counter catastrophic climate change are really a bothersome nuisance thinking people would be better off ignoring. And while there is some psychological credence to accepting this plan, the downsides are also a tad unsettling.

How should one navigate this quagmire of conflicted opinion? With an automatic locking rear differential and an EPA est. 15/21 city/hwy? By contracting a conglomerate’s Greek Letter-plated consulting arm in order to reduce your company’s energy and water waste? Or how about an individual bubble all your own to ride out all those frosty Inland mornings when the tide washes in over the Handy-mart parking lot and you can’t find your crocs in time to leap over the puddles for your first Burp-y of the day? Okay… went a little too far with that last one, but for a Sunday we’re really putting our best cognitive dissonance on display.

While we’re putting our commercial proclivities to such good use, we might imagine a few ways to distract ourselves with causes that matter. Or the gymnastic possibility (nimble, strong) exists that we might not be able to this on our own. In tribute to an equality of possibilities, where no great consequence may outweigh another, where time is a mere illusion, a subtle question rests: when is a distraction not a distraction?