The Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it is withdrawing an Obama-era request that oil and natural gas companies provide information on methane emissions at oil and gas operations.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said the withdrawal is effective immediately, adding that he wants to assess the need for the information the agency has been collecting under a directive issued in November.
Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and eight other states had questioned the reporting request as overly burdensome.
Pruitt, who until last month was Oklahoma attorney general, said removing the reporting request signals that EPA under his leadership takes seriously the concerns of state officials.
"We are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states," he said in a statement. "Today's action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry."
Environmental groups called the withdrawal a cave-in to oil-producing states, including Pruitt's home state and Texas, where new Energy Secretary Rick Perry served 14 years as governor.
"This appalling decision shows how quickly Pruitt is turning the EPA into an oil industry vending machine," said Vera Pardee of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.
EPA sent letters in November to more than 15,000 owners and operators in the oil and gas industry requiring them to provide information on the numbers and types of equipment at onshore oil and gas production facilities, and on methane emissions at the sites.
Congress unlikely to approve some proposals
EPA said at the time the information was needed to develop regulations to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations as part of President Barack Obama's plan to address climate change.
Methane, the key component of natural gas, has a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial methane source in the United States.
Meanwhile, a source with knowledge of the proposal told Reuters the White House is proposing to slash a quarter of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's budget.
President Donald Trump has long signalled his intention to reverse Obama's climate-change initiatives. But the Republican president has vowed his planned overhaul of green regulation would not jeopardize America's water and air quality.
The 23-page 2018 budget proposal, which aims to slice the environmental regulator's overall budget by 25 per cent to $6.1 billion and staffing by 20 per cent to 12,400 as part of a broader effort to fund increased military spending, would cut deeply into programs like climate protection, environmental justice and enforcement. The Washington Post was first to report the staff and overall budget cuts, but the source disclosed new details on the impact the cuts would have on programs.
The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the budget proposal or its counter-proposal.
The proposal, sent to the EPA this week, would cut into grants that support American Indian tribes and energy efficiency initiatives, according to the source, who read the document to Reuters.
State grants for lead cleanup, for example, would be cut 30 per cent to $9.8 million. Grants to help native tribes combat pollution would be cut 30 per cent to $45.8 million.
The EPA climate protection program on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases like methane that contribute to global warming would be cut 70 per cent to $29 million. The proposal would cut funding for the brownfields industrial site cleanup program by 42 per cent to $14.7 million. It would also reduce funding for enforcing pollution laws by 11 perc ent to $153 million
Pruitt told U.S. mayors on Thursday he would make a priority of cleanups of industrial and hazardous waste sites and improving water infrastructure, even as the White House proposed severe cuts to those programs.
The Republican-led Congress would have to approve any EPA cuts. Some of the cuts are unlikely to pass as they are popular with both Democrats and Republicans.
Congress would be unlikely to approve a proposal to cut all staff in a diesel emissions program, for example.
"In this budget discussion that is ongoing with Congress that is just starting, there are some concerns about some of these grant programs that EPA has been a part of historically," Pruitt said. "I want you to know that with the White House and also with Congress, I am communicating a message that the brownfields program, the Superfund program and the water infrastructure grants and state revolving funds are essential to protect," he said.
A state air pollution expert said the program cuts, if enacted, would harm some of the people most at risk from particulate and lead contamination.
"Any of these programs where they've cut air pollution or water pollution is going to have a direct effect on inner cities," said Bill Becker, director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.