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Obama’s Methane Reduction Plan Targets Landfills, Ag, Fossil Fuels

The Obama Administration has released its official strategy for reducing methane emissions as part of the President’s Climate Action Plan, which takes steps to further cut methane emissions from landfills, coal mining, and agriculture, as well as oil and gas systems through cost-effective voluntary actions and practical standards.

This spring, the EPA will assess several potentially significant sources of methane and other emissions from the oil and gas sector. The agency will solicit input from independent experts through a series of technical white papers, and this fall will determine how best to pursue further methane reductions from these sources. If the EPA decides to develop additional regulations, it will complete those regulations by the end of 2016.

Some key highlights of the strategy include:

Landfills: In the summer of 2014, the EPA will propose updated standards to reduce methane from new landfills and take public comment on whether to update standards for existing landfills.

Coal Mines: This month, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will release an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to gather public input on the development of a program for the capture and sale, or disposal of waste mine methane on lands leased by the Federal government. Later this year, the BLM will propose updated standards to reduce venting and flaring from oil and gas production on public lands.

Agriculture: In June, the dairy industry, the USDA, EPA and DOE will jointly release a “Biogas Roadmap” outlining voluntary strategies to accelerate adoption of methane digesters and other cost-effective technologies to reduce US dairy sector greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25 percent by 2020.

Oil and Gas: Building on success in reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector through voluntary programs and targeted regulations, the Administration will take new actions to encourage additional cost-effective reductions. Key steps include:

As part of the Quadrennial Energy Review, and through DOE-convened roundtables, the Administration will identify “downstream” methane reduction opportunities, the White House says. Through the Natural Gas STAR program, the EPA will work with the industry to expand voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions.

“Reducing methane emissions is a powerful way to take action on climate change; and putting methane to use can support local economies with a source of clean energy that generates revenue, spurs investment and jobs, improves safety, and leads to cleaner air,” the White House said in a statement. “When fully implemented, the policies in the methane strategy will improve public health and safety while recovering otherwise wasted energy to power our communities, farms, factories and power plants.”

Methane makes up nearly 9 percent of all the GHGs emitted as a result of human activity in the United States, the White House says, with up to 23 percent resulting from food waste in landfills, according to the NRDC. Methane pollution in the US has decreased by 11 percent, even as activities that can produce methane have increased. However, methane pollution is projected to increase to a level equivalent to over 620 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution in 2030 absent additional action to reduce emissions.

A number of private-sector enterprises have found innovative ways to reduce methane emissions, albeit on a small scale. California-based startup Newlight Technologies is capturing methane gas from dairy farms and turning it into AirCarbon, a durable and versatile plastic that can be used in everything from furniture and food containers to auto parts. AirCarbon removes more carbon from the atmosphere than its manufacturing emits, making it a carbon-negative material.

Meanwhile, enterprising dairy farms including Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma, California, and Bakerview EcoDairy in British Columbia are using anaerobic digesters to turn the methane gas released from cow manure into electricity. About 65 percent of cow manure is composed of methane, which allows the farms to offset roughly a third of their energy use each year.

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