As Hurricane Florence, fed by unusually warm ocean waters, closes in on the East Coast and millions flee the Carolina shores for safer ground, what a great time for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to be relaxing the rules for one of the most potent greenhouse gases of all. Well, at least somebody in the Trump administration must think so because the EPA is reportedly on the verge of announcing its plans to make it easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere.
The rollback is specifically aimed at what should be the most inexcusable of leaks — those coming from oil and gas wells that sometimes vent excess methane or “flare” by burning the gas. Under President Barack Obama, the EPA developed the regulations as part of a broader campaign to fight climate change. Scientists say methane, as a greenhouse gas, is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But oil and gas companies said fixing methane leaks in a timely manner was burdensome. Naturally, the Trump administration agreed.
And so, while one can’t say Hurricane Florence is entirely a product of climate change (severe weather existed long before people started burning fossil fuels), it is safe to say that climate change is a major reason why Florence may be bigger and stronger and why there are likely to be more such monster storms in our future. Meanwhile, it’s also quite safe to say that President Donald Trump and his current set of minions, anonymous or on the record, are exceedingly disinterested in lifting a finger to do something about global warming.
Already this year, the Trump EPA has rolled back limits on emissions on vehicles and coal-fired power plants, two major sources of greenhouse gases. This completes the administration’s trifecta of climate ignorance. And doing so as the Southeast faces such an ominous threat rises above chutzpah into something Nero-like in its lack of caring for the possible suffering of Americans. Perhaps if the Outer Banks had a Trump resort like his Aberdeenshire golf course in Scotland, where climate-related flooding has already become a problem, the White House might be taking the East Coast threat more seriously — or, more importantly, taking the causes of this threat more seriously.
Will this concession to the energy industry produce thousands of jobs or have some other enormously positive impact on the U.S. economy? Not really. By energy industry standards, the stakes are fairly low — with savings on the order of a half-billion dollars by 2025. Estimates of the cost of climate change vary, but a report published last year by the Universal Ecological Fund pegged them at $240 billion a year over the last 10 years, potentially rising to $360 billion annually in the next decade.
Hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, there’s no shortage of severe conditions that a warming planet worsens. And the Trump administration’s reversal on U.S. climate policy — made especially clear by Mr. Trump’s choice to remove the U.S. from the 2015 Paris accord — has made the situation all the more dire. United Nations secretary general António Guterres noted on Monday that the world is quickly approaching a point of no return on climate and called on leaders to do more. “The time has come for our leaders to show they care about the people whose fate they hold in their hands,” Mr. Guterres said during his speech at UN headquarters in New York.
Most Americans understand this. Polls show a majority of Americans believe their government isn’t doing enough about climate change. Even most Republicans support greater investment in renewable energy like wind turbines and solar farms — with 79 to 84 percent of Republicans supporting them, according to a 2018 Pew Research survey. So why turn back the clock? Why is ignoring the threat to vulnerable coastal communities like North Carolina’s Outer Banks considered a winning issue for this White House? Why dismantle climate progress when the benefits to anyone are minuscule and the risks are so high?