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Viewpoint: US readies 2023 regulatory push on climate

  • : Coal, Crude oil, Emissions, Natural gas, Oil products
  • 23/01/03

President Joe Biden is set to pivot to a regulatory focus this year to support his climate ambitions, after a two-year push to get much of his agenda through the US Congress while Democrats held a majority.

The upcoming regulations include a plan to finalize first-time methane emission limits for oil and gas facilities and to propose new climate regulations for power plants. The administration also wants to limit flaring by oil and gas operators on federal land and more clearly consider climate change in federal environmental reviews.

The flurry of action on climate-related regulations comes after two years during which the administration's pace of work was slower than climate activists were anticipating. Some of the upcoming rules had risked upsetting Democrats whose votes were to include climate spending in last year's Inflation Reduction Act and 2021's bipartisan infrastructure law.

But with Republicans set to take control of the US House of Representatives starting today and slim chances for new climate legislation, the Biden administration should have considerably more wiggle room to finish up regulations focused on climate change and energy, particularly with the recent passage of a $1.7 trillion spending bill that will fund federal agencies through 30 September.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be responsible for much of the climate-related regulations. EPA plans to roll out its proposal to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants in March, the same month it wants to unveil a plan to limit greenhouse gas and conventional air pollutants from cars and trucks sold starting in model year 2027.

In May, EPA intends to finalize a rule that will require oil and gas facilities to cut methane emissions. EPA next year also is scheduled to begin to review — and possibly tighten — the stringency of national ambient air quality standards for ground-level ozone and particulate matter.

At the US Interior Department, the administration is preparing to finish this year new requirements for oil and gas facilities on federal land to reduce natural gas flaring. The White House is separately preparing to propose new standards for reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, with a goal to incorporate a more exhaustive analysis of climate change in decisions such as whether to open more federal areas to oil and gas leasing.

Climate change is also set to be a focus at independent federal agencies led by Biden appointees. The US Securities and Exchange Commission is preparing to finalize requirements for publicly traded companies to disclose more information on climate-related risks. The US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is also trying to scrutinize climate in the permitting of natural gas pipelines, although the agency's pending 2-2 split is likely to delay any changes.

Even regulations without an explicit climate focus are expected to have an effect on climate. EPA is preparing concurrent work on regulations that would require coal-fired power plants to reduce conventional air emissions and water pollution. Aligning the timing of those rules is expected to cause more coal plants to retire because plant owners will have to decide whether to make all required upgrades at the same time.

Biden's climate agenda in 2023 will not focus exclusively on regulations. The administration will also be rolling out some of the $369bn in climate spending in the Inflation Reduction Act, along with funding for hydrogen and carbon capture from the bipartisan infrastructure law. Biden has also said he wants to work with Congress to fast-track permitting of energy infrastructure he says is needed to support climate spending.

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