The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made the announcement during the COP28 climate talks in the UAE, where the host country, the United States and China were set to hold talks on methane and other non-carbon dioxide gases.
Methane -- which is potent but relatively short-lived -- is a key target for countries wanting to slash emissions quickly and slow climate change. It is responsible for about one-third of the warming from greenhouse gases occurring today.
"The finalization of these methane standards addresses a glaring regulatory gap," said Julie McNamara of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
"For far too long, oil and gas companies have been allowed to spew methane and serious health-harming pollutants without any limits -- all while shoving the towering costs of that pollution onto people and the environment."
The new standards would phase in a requirement to eliminate routine flaring of natural gas produced by oil wells and require comprehensive monitoring of methane leaks from wells and compression stations.
It would also establish standards requiring reductions in emissions from equipment such as pumps, controllers, and storage tanks.
The United States initially proposed rules in 2021 and 2022, with the latest action building upon those after receiving a million public comments.
The EPA estimated it would prevent an estimated 58 million tons of methane emissions from 2024 to 2038, the equivalent of 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.
"In 2030 alone, the expected reductions are equivalent to 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide -- more than the annual emissions from 28 million gasoline cars," the agency said in a statement.
In addition to methane, enacting the rule would reduce emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that cause respiratory problems including asthma attacks, as well as toxic air pollutants such as benzene that can cause cancer.
The United States and the EU led a "Global Methane Pledge" at COP26 in Glasgow. It now has 111 country participants who have vowed to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030.
But an analysis of satellite data by environmental intelligence company Kayrros shows so far little progress among the signatories, save for Australia. US emissions are increasing.
McNamara said the new rules would not make fossil fuels "clean".
"For the health and well-being of people across the country, and the world, this must only be an intermediate step on the path to a sharp wind-down of fossil fuels," she said.
COP28: Calls for more nuclear and less 'destructive' methane
Dubai (AFP) Dec 2, 2023 - The United States led calls at UN climate talks Saturday for efforts to curb methane emissions but also pushed a deeply controversial drive to boost nuclear energy to curb global warming.
With smoggy skies in Dubai highlighting the challenges facing the world, other pledges are expected at the COP28 conference, including stepping up the deployment of renewable energy.
The use of nuclear power as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels is highly controversial as environmental groups are concerned about safety and the disposal of nuclear waste.
But more than 20 nations ranging from the US to Ghana, Japan and several European countries said in a declaration that it plays a "key role" in the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century.
They called for the tripling of nuclear energy capacity by 2050 from 2020 levels.
"We are not making the argument to anybody that this is absolutely going to be a sweeping alternative to every other energy source," US climate envoy John Kerry said at COP28.
"But we know because (of) the science and the reality of facts... that you can't get to net zero 2050 without some nuclear," he said.
The other signatories include Britain, France, South Korea, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates. But nuclear powers Russia and China did not sign up.
Environmental group 350.org said the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan highlighted the dangers of atomic power.
"While we appreciate that the Biden administration is looking to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels, we don't have time to waste on dangerous distractions like nuclear energy," said its North American director Jeff Ordower.
Experts point to the fact that nuclear plants can take decades to go into service.
"Nuclear energy takes much longer than renewable energy to be operational," 350.org added.
- Fossil fuel expansion 'frightening' -
The declaration came as more than 50 world leaders took the stage at COP28 for the second day in a row, though US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are skipping the talks.
US Vice President Kamala Harris announced a $3 billion contribution to a global fund to help developing countries with the energy transition and the effects of climate change -- its first pledge to it since 2014.
"Today, we are demonstrating through action how the world can and must meet this crisis," Harris said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said energy transition "has to be now", adding: "We all have to demonstrate the same determination to phase out fossil fuels, beginning with coal."
Meanwhile Colombia became one of the largest fossil fuel producers to join a group of climate-vulnerable island nations calling to end new development of planet-heating coal, oil and gas.
Colombia said its decision to join the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative was an important step in its climate plans.
Colombian Environment Minister Susana Muhamad said it was "frightening" that governments continued to plan to expand their fossil fuel exploitation.
While nations are locked in contentious negotiations on a phase out or phase down of fossil fuels, there is broad backing for the tripling of renewable energy by 2030, an issue that will feature highly on Saturday.
The US and China, the world's two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, will later hold a summit with the UAE on methane emissions, the second driver of global warming after fossil fuels.
"The science must be simple: to turn down the heat, you simply have to turn down the methane," said Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley.
Washington has announced it will tighten curbs on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
The new standards would phase in eliminating routine flaring of natural gas produced by oil wells and require comprehensive monitoring of methane leaks from wells and compression stations.
Methane emissions also come from the agriculture sector, with cows and sheep releasing the gas during digestion and in their manure.
Methane "is the most destructive gas", Kerry said.
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