White House releases methane reduction strategy

By Erin Voegele | March 31, 2014

On March 28, the White House released its Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions under the President’s Climate Action Plan. The strategy addresses methane from landfills, agriculture, coal mines and oil and gas operations.

According to the White House’s strategy, the U.S. EPA will propose updated standards this summer to reduce methane from new landfills. The agency will also accept public comments on whether the standards for existing landfills should also be updated. The plan indicates that the EPA will work through its Landfill Methane Outreach Program to further reduce emissions through voluntary programs, including landfill gas-to-energy projects. In addition, the USDA and EPA will work to reduce landfill waste through the U.S. Food Waste Change, which aims to support the reduction, recovery and recycling of food waste.

The plan also addresses ways to reduce methane from agricultural operations. In June, the USDA, EPA and U.S. DOE, in partnership with the dairy industry, are scheduled to release a “Biogas Roadmap” that outlines voluntary strategies to accelerate the adoption of methane digesters and other technologies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the U.S. diary sector by 25 percent by 2020. The plan also states that the USDA and EPA will continue to support the deployment of biodigester technologies by provide financial and technical assistance through voluntary programs.

"Across the country, farmers and ranchers are taking action to protect natural resources, and the Administration's Methane Reduction Strategy provides additional voluntary actions producers can take to cut methane emissions. USDA will help producers implement these strategies, including methane capture technologies like anaerobic digesters and biogas systems, which create jobs and allow producers to tap into a $3 billion market for renewable energy. Since 2009, USDA has provided $62 million in support for 93 methane digester projects across the United States,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.

With regard to methane emissions from coal mines, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management is expected to release an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in April to gather public input on the development of a program for the capture and sale or disposal of waste mine methane on lands leased by the federal government.

Efforts will also focus on reducing methane from oil and gas operations. This spring, the EPA is expected to assess potentially significant sources of methane and other emissions from the sector. If the agency decides to develop additional regulations, the White House indicate those would be completed by the end of 2016. The BLM is also expected to propose updated standards to reduce venting and flaring on public lands later this year, and the administration said it will work to identify downstream methane reduction opportunities as part of its Quadrennial Energy Review and through DOE-convened roundtables. .

The methane reduction strategy also identifies ways to improve data collection and measurement of methane emissions. First, the proposal said new measurement technologies should be developed, including lower-cost emissions sensing equipment. Second, areas of higher uncertainty in bottom-up inventories should be addressed through additional data collection, measurement and research and analysis. Finally, the strategy said that top-down modeling and monitory based on direct measurement of atmospheric concentrations should be enhanced.

The American Biogas Council applauded the White House’s announcement, noting the construction and operate of new biogas systems will play a critical role in the methane reduction plan. “Biogas systems convert organic materials which might otherwise be the source of methane emissions in landfills or lagoons. Biogas plants process these materials a controlled, fully-enclosed, natural biological system that not only captures the methane to create renewable electricity and fuel, but also produce valuable, nutrient-rich soil amendments that reduce the need for synthetic fertilizers.  The move to reduce national methane emissions translates to support for the growth of the U.S. biogas industry, the primary mission of the American Biogas Council,” said the ABC in a statement.

The BlueGreen Alliance also weighed in on the announcement. “The administration has taken important first steps toward curbing methane emissions—a gas that pound for pound has a 20 times greater impact on climate change than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period—and enhancing utility reliability. It’s also an important chance to further job creation potential and spur domestic manufacturing. We applaud the Department of Energy for advancing these important efforts and especially their solicitation of input from a broad group of stakeholders,” said David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance.

A full copy of the Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions can be downloaded from the White House website