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D.C. Mitigates Methane with Almost a Billion in Grants

The Biden administration rolled out a new $850 million program to track and mitigate methane, and a bipartisan nuclear bill passed Congress.
Abigail Bassett
Jun 27, 2024 5 min read
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Last week was a big one for climate politics in the US as the Biden administration rolled out a new $850 million program to track and mitigate methane, and a bipartisan nuclear bill passed Congress.

Taken together these two movements represent a positive step forward for climate change mitigation in the US, which happens to be one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses in the world, second only to China.

While these are both positive moves ahead, there are just a few short months to go before the presidential election in November, which could significantly hamper these efforts should former Republican president and Donald Trump win a second term.

Movement on Methane Emissions

Last week, the Biden administration took further aim at reducing methane emissions in the US, targeting the gas and oil industry and its role in climate change. The $850 million initiative to marks a significant step in the administration's climate action strategy. Announced at the UN Climate Conference in the United Arab Emirates, the funding, sourced from the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, will be managed by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and will encourage the use of methane detection technology to track and stop methane leaks from oil and gas operations, in order to cut down on the number of deaths, hospital visits and illnesses that directly result from air pollution from these operations.

The $850 million will be distributed across three main categories: reducing emissions from existing oil wells and infrastructure, addressing leaks in equipment such as engines and compressors, and enhancing methane leak monitoring in communities near oil and gas facilities, particularly in lower-income areas and communities of color. According to the administration, the aim of the initiative is to help smaller oil and gas operators comply with new methane regulations, which some industry players have criticized as burdensome, while also creating jobs in the energy sector and disadvantaged communities. The funding builds on the EPA's recent rule requiring oil and gas operators to monitor and update equipment to prevent methane leaks and restrict flaring of excess gas at oil wells.

In addition to tools for remediation and reduction of methane leaks, a methane fee will be imposed on operators emitting methane equivalent to at least 25,000 metric tons of CO2, starting at $900 per metric ton and rising to $1,500 by 2026.

Methane is a far more potent pollutant than carbon dioxide, with as much as 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. It’s also the second largest contributor to climate warming, according to NASA. While NASA tracks methane emissions, other private companies do too–including Google, which partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund last year to launch its MethaneSAT program.

The new $850 million initiative is part of the broader US Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan, which includes nearly 100 actions taken in 2023 to cut methane pollution. The plan supports the deployment of advanced technologies to better understand and reduce methane emissions, contributing to the US's climate and clean air goals.

Nuclear Energy Gets a Boost

In addition to the movement on methane emissions, the US Congress displayed a very rare display of bipartisanship and passed a sweeping nuclear energy bill known as the "ADVANCE Act" as part of the "Fire Grants and Safety Act." On Friday last week, the bill sailed through the Senate with an 88-2 vote, following overwhelming support in the House with over 390 votes.

The bill, known in its long form as the "Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy Act," has been hailed as an "all-of-the-above" bill, offering benefits for a wide variety of stakeholders, including a lifeline for the struggling nuclear energy industry as well as a way for the US to dominate the global nuclear energy race.

The bill aims to streamline the permitting process for advanced reactors, reduce regulatory fees for licensing advanced reactor technologies, and update rules to allow more international investment. The bill also requires the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to develop a pathway for quickly licensing nuclear facilities at former fossil fuel sites and boost the NRC’s workforce, with support training for nuclear trades, among other provisions.

Supporters see the bill as a boon for carbon-free energy and a means to enhance energy security in the US. The bill's passage was the result of months of negotiations led by Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), along with Representatives Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Diana DeGette (D-Co.). They secured a compromise in the spring of this year, according to Politico, as the bipartisan team that helped get the bill across the finish line focused heavily on jobs and economic growth as a result of the investment in new nuclear tech.

There was also broad appeal thanks to nuclear energy's unique role as a zero-emission, reliable baseload power source that accounts for nearly 20% of American energy production. Despite some concerns raised about safety standards, the bill's passage is a significant step forward for the nuclear energy sector and demonstrates the potential for bipartisan cooperation on energy policy.

The Clock is Ticking as the US Presidential Election Looms

While both these movements are positive in the fight against climate change, the looming US election could upend everything should former president Donald Trump win a second term in November. Trump has made no bones about the fact that he would gut the IRA and "maximize fossil fuel production," regardless of the climate and human harm it would do.

Trump has also not been shy about his plans to eliminate, “overhaul or abolish government agencies, purge officials, cut spending on clean energy programmes and repeal restrictions on the fossil fuels industry,” according to reporting by The Financial Times.

The publication, CarbonBrief, estimates that a second Trump presidency would be disastrous for climate change, noting that a win for the Republican candidate could result in as much as 4 billion tons of emissions pushed into the atmosphere by 2030. According to Reuters, a second Trump presidency could also result in more drilling, a withdrawal from the Paris Deal, a rollback on electric vehicle requirements, and more.

The good news is that an increasing number of Republicans are getting behind the IRA bill, as Politico noted, because Republicans are seeing the fruits of the spending and IRA investment in their districts. New factories and power plants have gone up in red states, driving job and wage growth for people in those areas. That fact could make rolling back these climate investments very difficult even if Trump wins a second term. We'll just have to wait and see how the election shakes out in November to see what happens with climate action in the US.

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The Author

Abigail Bassett