During the question-and-answer portion of her State of the County speech last week, Ilene Shapiro got a couple of questions about climate change. They took the shape of what can the county do to address the warming planet and subsequent harm. The executive actually had included an answer in the body of her talk. She noted the expansion of the Akron-Summit County Energy Special Improvement District, a mechanism for encouraging businesses to make energy-efficient improvements to their buildings.
Fourteen of the county’s 31 communities are members of the district. As a result, businesses gain access to low-interest loans, the expense covered through an assessment on their property. The appealing thing about energy efficiency is that it both reduces greenhouse emissions and saves money in the long run.
Unfortunately, too many lawmakers at the Statehouse fail to grasp the value. The Republican majorities recently all but wiped out the statewide efficiency standards. That misguided approach also has taken hold at the national level, notably the past week as the Trump White House announced plans to roll back regulations on methane emissions, a potent contributor to climate change.
Methane is the primary component in natural gas. The emissions problem doesn’t stem from the burning process. Rather, the concern involves methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage facilities. Put another way, natural gas, and thus methane, is handled inefficiently. The product is wasted. As a result, the Obama administration set up regulations requiring oil and gas companies to do a better job of detection, repair and containment.
This is the regimen that Trump administration proposes to reverse. Officials argue the regulations go too far, stressing that methane, or natural gas, carries such value the industry has good reason to proceed efficiently and take full advantage of its worth. That sounds logical. It differs from experience. Consider that a report in the journal Science last year found methane leakage at a rate 60 percent higher than the Obama team calculated.
An Environmental Defense Fund analysis found methane emissions in Pennsylvania at five times the levels reported by the industry. Ohio has 1,400 oil and gas wells.
Methane poses less of an overall threat to the climate than carbon dioxide, accounting for 10 percent of greenhouse emissions. That is small comfort in view of studies finding methane with 80 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon. If it spends less time in the atmosphere, methane delivers a powerful punch. Thus, slowing emissions proves most helpful upfront.
As it is, larger energy companies have expressed support for the current Obama regulation. That includes Exxon, Shell and BP America. What they recognize is that failing to reduce methane emissions erodes their argument about natural gas as a cleaner-burning energy alternative. Natural gas does generate roughly 50 percent fewer greenhouse emissions than coal. Yet the advantage narrows substantially if methane emissions are not controlled.
The larger companies may have learned from the Colorado experience, where state regulations have reduced sharply methane leaks while oil and gas production has climbed. More, the federal Environmental Protection Agency puts the expense of the Obama regulations at $17 million to $19 million a year, a fraction of annual industry revenue of $100 billion to $150 billion.
In seeking to roll back the regulations, the Trump White House puts something else at risk — the opportunity for innovation and job creation. Already, companies and technologies have begun to emerge around methane mitigation in Ohio and elsewhere. So, it isn’t just the planet that would benefit, though that should be enough, or the dividend from more efficient use, the economy as a whole would receive a boost.