Environment Costs of Reforming Methane Rule are Trivial
By David Henderson
Let’s actually pay attention to the science.
Neither the Obama rule nor the proposed reform [by the Trump administration] would have any detectable effect on temperatures or climate phenomena over the remainder of this century. (Climate projections beyond 2100 are not to be taken seriously.) Total U.S. methane emissions in 2018 (635 million metric tons in CO2 equivalents) were 9.5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, and about 1.2 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Suppose that U.S. methane emissions were to be eliminated completely. If we apply the EPA climate model, which is based on assumptions that exaggerate the effects of reduced emissions, global temperatures would be about 0.012° Celsius lower than otherwise would be the case by the year 2100. If we apply assumptions more consistent with the modern peer-reviewed literature, that predicted effect becomes even smaller — about 0.005° Celsius. If a complete elimination of methane emissions would have a such a trivial effect, the effect of the Obama rule would be even less significant.
This is from Benjamin Zycher, “The Trump administration reforms Obama’s misguided methane emissions rule,” National Review, August 18, 2020.
Why does the Obama regulation apply “only to U.S. oil and gas production and transport systems” when U.S. agriculture accounts for 40 percent of U.S. methane emissions (versus 28 percent for the oil and gas sectors)?
Zycher, who always notices the public-choice aspects of policy issues, provides the answer:
But it would be much more difficult to reduce agricultural emissions; doing so would drive up the industry’s costs significantly, and thus the prices that Americans pay for food. The costs to fossil-fuel operations of the Obama methane rule by contrast are hidden in a long supply chain comprising exploration, production, gathering and transport (including transport of crude oil and refined products from overseas), refining, distribution, imports, and so on, while the adverse price effects can be blamed on the evil oil companies.
I found the last paragraph of Zycher’s article most interesting:
Why is it that methane emissions from fossil-fuel operations have declined about 23 percent since 1990, despite an increase in oil production of 49 percent, and an increase in gas production of 72 percent? Notwithstanding the assertions of the environmental Left, a reduction in methane emissions furthers the industry’s interests, because methane is valuable; from the viewpoint of a profit-seeking fossil-fuel producer, sales are vastly preferable to losses through emissions. The interests of the private sector and environmental protection are far more consistent than commonly asserted, a reality that no one should be allowed to obscure.
Here’s the relevant paragraph from my review:
Capitalism—the search for profits through making and selling in free markets—should move us toward both a healthy economy and clean air and water. Why? Because pollution and waste are inefficient and expensive. Is your factory polluting the air? You are wasting money. Polluting the water? You are wasting money. Using too much energy? Still wasting money. Add in the property rights of those downstream and the link between capitalism and environmentalism becomes still clearer. Factor in the true value of the clean air and water that nature produces each and every day for “free,” and it becomes obvious that we will be richer with a cleaner environment.
HT2 Don Boudreaux.