Coal Mines Escape Regulation of Methane Emissions

Monday, May 13, 2013
Acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe

Big Coal dodged some environmental regulations on April 30, and has the budget sequester to thank for it.


For reasons of politics rather than science, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week turned down a petition from environmental groups asking the agency to regulate greenhouse gases, particularly methane, released from coal mines. The indiscriminate budget cuts imposed by the sequester are allegedly forcing the agency to “prioritize its regulatory actions…especially…in light of limited resources and ongoing budget uncertainties,” explained acting EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe in a letter to attorney Edward Zukoski of Earthjustice.


The second-most prevalent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere after carbon dioxide, methane is at least 20 times more potent a trigger for warming than CO2, but dissipates in the atmosphere more quickly. Scientists estimate that a given methane emission will have 25 times the effect on global warming as a CO2 emission of the same mass over the following 100 years. Coal mines account for about 10% of U.S. emissions of methane, which constitutes about 10% of annual U.S. greenhouse gas emissions overall. 


Calling on the administration to reconsider, Democrats Rep. Henry Waxman (California) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) wrote a letter dated May 7 emphasizing the growing urgency of climate-related action and rejecting EPA's refusal even to study the issue: “The threat of climate change is so large and the window for action is so narrow that we do not have the luxury of ignoring any significant source of emissions,” including coal mines.


The coal mine methane issue marks at least the fourth category of greenhouse gas emitter the EPA has decided not to regulate, following its rejection of a separate petition last June to reduce emissions from aircraft, ships and off-highway trucks.


Although Earthjustice and others have already filed suit over the issue, EP’s argument that budget limitations justify its decision to take what Perciasepe called “a step-by-step approach, starting with [the] largest sources and sectors, such as transportation and electricity systems,” that account for 60% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, is one to which the federal courts generally give great deference.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Coal Mines’ Methane Curbs Fall Victim to EPA Budget Cuts (by Mark Drajem, Bloomberg)

EPA Denies Request to Regulate Coal Mine Methane Emissions (by Zack Colman, The Hill)

Exasperated by EPA Inaction, Residents near Coal Ash Dumps File Lawsuits (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

EPA Dropped Contaminated Water Investigation to Appease Driller Who Was Its Prime Suspect (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

EPA Sued over Refusal to Regulate Coal Ash (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

EPA Ignored Possible Health Risks of Using Coal Waste for Construction (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


SJR2 10 years ago
I don't understand: the suggestion is to regulate the methane coming out of the coal mining operations, but the issue is "how", exactly?

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