By Catherine Rampell
If you want to understand the long-term consequences of the Trump presidency, forget his Twitter feed. Instead, think about methane.
Methane is the main ingredient of natural gas. When released into the atmosphere, it traps 80 times as much heat as its better-known greenhouse-gas cousin, carbon dioxide, over 20 years. Because of methane’s potent heat-trapping abilities, this “super-pollutant” is the sleeper issue of climate change.
Unfortunately, scientists don’t know precisely how much methane is being released because there hasn’t been adequate measurement. But recent studies suggest emissions are much greater than previously believed. In fact, recent research estimates that the fossil-fuel industry emits about 13 million metric tons of methane annually. That’s 80 percent higher than estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. In heat-trapping terms, it is roughly equivalent to total carbon dioxide emissions from all of the United States’ remaining coal-fired plants.
On Thursday, the Trump administration rolled back the rules anyway. In so doing, it provided a useful encapsulation of virtually every awful theme of this administration — and what’s at stake if President Trump gets reelected.
The new rules, first and foremost, are not merely anti-science, but anti-measurement. That is, the rollback’s primary initial impact is to keep Americans in the dark about a climate-damaging pollutant.
“How could we as an advanced society not want to measure these emissions?” asks Michael Greenstone, director of the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute. “This is such a concerted effort to stick our heads in the ground.”