Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Oil drillers cannot be trusted to regulate own methane leaks

As a businessman foremost, President Donald Trump is notoriously trusting of corporations. Tax cuts and deregulation are at the core of his vision for putting business first.

The New York Times broke the news this morning that the Environmental Protection Agency is announcing a proposal weakening the requirements of companies to monitor and repair methane leaks. The very agency responsible for holding corporations to environmental standards is taking a huge step back on Obama-era environmental regulations, allowing companies to be responsible for their own behavior.  

When you hear the word “methane,” you probably think of cows chewing grass in a field somewhere. Maybe you’re also aware that methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases — that keeping the gas out of the atmosphere isn’t optional if we want to protect the ozone layer.

This proposal signifies a fundamental shift in trust — Trump is handing accountability for preventing methane from reaching the atmosphere from environmentalists to companies.

No corporation can be trusted to regulate its own behavior, ever. No matter how many green plant symbols a company stamps on its products or how many “we come from the Earth” ad campaigns a company runs, it’s always done in self interest. Rolling back regulations on businesses is almost always to the detriment of the environment.

In the case of oil and gas drilling operations, scrapping regulations will undoubtedly increase the amount of methane released into the atmosphere. Currently, the EPA requires drillers to inspect equipment every six months and repair leaks within 30 days. The proposal will double the time limit for each of those requirements.

Anyone who believes oil and gas drillers will take the initiative themselves to spend money and resources checking on leaks within the old time requirement is laughably misguided. It doesn’t pay for fracking companies to care about their environmental impact. These companies regularly violate environmental law, knowing that the billions they rake in will outweigh any small fines their crimes incur.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, praised Trump for keeping the oil industry’s interests at heart. She said the Obama-era rule requiring frequent equipment checks was extremely difficult to execute.

If it was difficult for companies to check their gear every three months under Obama, that just might be a sign that his policy was most effective in preventing leaks. Oil companies should take methane leaks seriously, to the point where it is nearly impossible for them to check as frequently as they would like. If Obama required an impossible number of equipment checks and we still face a rising level of methane gas in the atmosphere, what could happen in the coming months?

The EPA is the arm of the Trump administration that, while mismanaged, is practically mismanaged. It’s frightening to see the ease with which the EPA can take objectively incorrect and misguided information and use it to make change. With the exception of a few oil company executives, nobody pressed the administration to adopt these new policies, yet the EPA can put these decisions into effect almost immediately.

This move and other policies Trump has rolled back on are emblematic of self-centered politics. Trump operates from a base of like-minded people, and putting policies like these in place aren’t going to backfire on that base. But for the rest of the world, these policies are going to have detrimental effects for years to come.

For Trump’s base, though, none of that matters. Their vision of the environment serves the economy. In their eyes, the environment does not exist on its own.

The EPA should not be assigned with ensuring the financial security of oil workers — it’s in the organization’s name to stand up against corporate interests and listen to environmental groups, not oil rigs.

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