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EPA administrator: 'We're going to keep reducing greenhouse gas emissions'

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize rules to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector this spring, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday.

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    EPA administrator Gina McCarthy speaks with reporters at a Monitor Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, April 5, 2016.
    Michael Bonfigli/the Christian Science Monitor
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This spring, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize rules to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said at a breakfast for reporters sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor Tuesday.

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is of special concern, advocates for climate change say, because it traps planet-warming heat around 80 times faster than carbon dioxide. Last month, the EPA announced that it planned to expand its regulations of methane emissions.

“You will see that these rules continue our commitment to achieve the US goal of reducing methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent below 2012 levels,” Ms. McCarthy said. “We’re going to be moving that forward.”

Experts say a small number of oil and gas facilities are responsible for most methane leaks in the United States. Left over fluids from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), a method for extracting natural gas, have some of the highest levels of methane.

But methane emissions have proven challenging to measure. On Tuesday, the administrator said the EPA would carry out an information collection request to help accurately determine the extent of emissions throughout the country.

She also emphasized the need to cut emissions from other sources of greenhouse gas, such as agriculture and livestock production and food waste.

“We’re doing some really neat things, like the food recovery challenge, which is looking at how we address the overall UN [United Nations] goal that we embraced to try to reduce food waste,” McCarthy said. “That is a significant strategy for methane reduction as well.”

The EPA also has been in conversations with faith leaders about what they can do to fight climate change, McCarthy said.

“We thought it would be a nice opportunity for us to talk with faith leaders about how they can reduce greenhouse gases, in this case methane, by looking at how they work with their community and divert what would otherwise be wasted food to food pantries,” she said.

Underlining some of the EPA’s most recent successes, the administrator pointed to a new rule for oil refineries.

“The refinery rule was actually quite a remarkable accomplishment because it looked at sources of emissions from refineries that we had not regulated before and got more stringent on the ones we’ve regulated,” said McCarthy.

The agency helped develop a technology that was inexpensive and effective at ensuring that communities living around refineries are protected, McCarthy said.

“This is a clear indication that new technologies are allowing us to do a much better job,” she noted.

During the breakfast, she also lauded President Obama's leadership in calling attention to climate change.

“I think the president has brought visibility to this issue in a way that no president has before by being so embracing of the science and so clear about the breadth of the threat that climate poses,” she said.

On Thursday, McCarthy will travel to Ottawa, Canada, to discuss how the US and Canada can cooperate in the fight against climate change.

“We’re going to keep moving forward on climate change,” McCarthy said. “We’re going to keep reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

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