US and Canada agree to cut methane emissions; will regulations hold up?

 US President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau greet the audience.  Photo: Pete Souza, whitehouse.gov.

US President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau greet the audience.  Photo: Pete Souza, whitehouse.gov.

When President Obama announced that the US would not be approving the Keystone XL pipeline project last November, a move that would frustrate efforts to bring crude oil from Canada to global markets, it was believed that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's more climate-friendly politics made it easier for Obama to nix the project without damaging US-Canada relations.  The previous Prime Minister had pushed the pipeline as a national priority, while Trudeau was more circumspect in supporting the project.

It now seems climate policy might be an opportunity for collaboration between the US and Canada.  During Trudeau's visit to the White House this week, the two heads of state announced a joint plan to cut methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.  The plan calls for a 40-45 percent reduction from 2012 levels by 2025.  As the EPA administrator noted:

EPA will begin developing regulations for methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources [...] We will begin with a formal process to require companies operating existing oil and gas sources to provide information to assist in the development of comprehensive regulations to reduce methane emissions. An Information Collection Request (ICR) will allow us to gather information on existing sources of methane emissions, technologies to reduce those emissions and the costs of those technologies in the production, gathering, processing, and transmission and storage segments of the oil and gas sector.

Unfortunately, developing regulations of this nature take time, and even if the administration manages to complete the rule-making process by the time President Obama leaves office, actual implementation and enforcement of any new rules would be undertaken by the next President.  Unfortunately, several of the remaining candidates for president are not proactive when it comes to climate policy, and are unlikely to meaningfully enforce these rules.  They may even be prompted to develop their own rules for the oil and gas sector that disregard methane emissions.

The NYT's Andrew Revkin, for his part, is disappointed that these rules are coming so late:

McCarthy’s assertion that the leakage issue only became clear enough to act now is hard to swallow, particularly given Obama’s longstanding “all of the above” push on energy, which I supported, but only if it came with extra attention to oversight [...] Click back to our front-page 2009 report in The Times and this related Dot Earth post to see how clear the problem, and solutions, were even then.

Agency rulemaking in the closing hours of an administration's term in office is nothing new, of course, and many of those rules remain in effect despite lacking political support from the next administration.  But coupling these rules with foreign policy and the national security interest implicated by good relations between the US and Canada is a shrewd move that makes it more difficult for the next president to rescind the methane reduction pledge.  Prime Minister Trudeau will likely be in office for the next few years and is aggressively promoting his own climate policies.  Failing to hold up our end of the bargain by rescinding the methane regulations or failing to enforce them would not be the best way for the next president to start building a relationship with Canada.