Trump Lets Deadly Methane Spew Unchecked, But Bloomberg Has a Better Idea

A little known 2018 disaster at an Ohio fracking site, one of the largest methane leaks ever recorded in the United States. (Ohio State Highway Patrol)

Given a choice between saving the planet while creating jobs or killing it as unemployed people look on, what would you pick?

New rules from the Trump administration will allow toxic methane gas to spew into the atmosphere while destroying jobs and speeding up global temperature increases.

A mirror opposite proposal it being made by real billionaire Michael Bloomberg who briefly sought the presidency as a Democrat. The plan would slash methane pollution and employ laid-off oil field workers while reducing the lethal effects of climate disruption.

Think of this as Trumpian idiocracy vs. science and sound economics.

Every day that idiocracy prevails means decades of damage to the air we breathe and further disruption of the climate.

The Trump rules let methane gas flow freely into the atmosphere. Methane is at least 80 times worse for raising global temperatures than carbon dioxide.

“Without intervention, the United States faces the likelihood of a potentially protracted economic recovery with persistent high unemployment” because of coronavirus, Trump declared in a June executive order.

His administration insists that leaking methane is, literally, a bull shit issue—pointing to cows and other ruminants that manufacture methane in their guts and expel it.

Grossly understating environmental damage by fossil fuel companies has become a crude form of regulatory art under Trump. Inconvenient facts are ignored or dismissed along with scientists who reject Trumpian alchemy and dogma.

Climate scientists at Cornell University believe methane from North American shale wells accounts for “more than half of all of the increased emissions from fossil fuels globally and approximately one-third of the total increased emissions from all sources globally over the past decade.”

Methane released into the atmosphere has grown in tandem with the extraction of oil and natural gas from shale deposits. New extraction techniques developed late in the last century showed how millions of small pockets of carbon could be extracted from layer upon layer of deposits far beneath the surface.

Drillers use explosives to break up rock deep under the surface, freeing the carbon residue of forests, fields, marshes and swamps that existed eons ago. Those techniques require injecting water laced with toxic substances, which in time will enter the groundwater supply that serves millions of homes. Since it takes time for groundwater to flow and accumulate the corporations that made quick profits from extracting shale oil and gas will have long since shut down, leaving victims with no recourse except the prospect of taxpayer assistance.

‘Termites’ in Charge

These issues get no respect from Trump and his political termites, who eat away at the structure of our federal environmental, transportation and other agencies. Many of the political termites infesting our government came from the industries they now regulate or, rather, don’t regulate.

In the name of eliminating supposedly “antiquated regulations,” Trump basically has halted enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws that regulate fossil fuel industries. He claims emergency power to suspend environmental laws and regulations.

Trump said in his executive order shows that he is “focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays.”

Low prices for crude oil and natural gas—not documentation and disclosure—primarily vex the fossil fuel industries. Combine that with plummeting costs to generate renewable energy from solar and wind, and the fossil fuel industries are hobbled by market economics, not bureaucrats.

Trump’s Mercantilist Mentality

Trump, who was given a degree in economics by the University of Pennsylvania, doesn’t understand these forces. He is a mercantilist, a believer in the 16th Century idea that every dollar some other person or country has is one he or America doesn’t have. Wealth, to mercantilists, cannot grow. It’s fixed, and all that matters is how the economic pie is divided.

Creating wealth, the way Bloomberg did with his valuable and eponymous desktop data machines, is alien to dodgy billionaire Trump. He chose to take over enterprises with no money down and a wad of cash back. Trump then drained these enterprises of cash until their rivers of greenbacks dried up. He walked  away without paying debts to investors, governments, vendors and workers.

Essentially, Trump’s policy is to fight market forces with the subtle subsidy of not making oil and gas companies clean up after themselves. That stinks up the economy and the environment.

Pre-Trump Republicans would have denounced Trump’s actions as socialist, anti-market, statist economics causing lasting and possibly permanent damage. Having sold their political souls to Trump, however, GOP leadership chooses applause or silence depending on how deeply they bow to Trump.

Bloomberg’s Smart Policy

Bloomberg has a better idea. He proposes hiring some of the 100,000 jobless drillers to cap abandoned oil and gas wells leaking methane gas. Capping wells, he wrote, reduces methane leakage by as much as 99%.

Those workers know how to do the work, Bloomberg noted in a column for his magazine Bloomberg Businessweek. And they live in areas hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic after Trump tried to wish the coronavirus away.

Proposing to make lemonade from Trump’s bumper crop of economic and environmental lemons, America, Bloomberg showed how easily we could turn adversity into prosperity.

America enjoys “an unprecedented opportunity to put people to work addressing the climate crisis — and we should start by hiring laid-off oil and gas workers to help lead the way.”

Troubled Fossil Fuels Industry

“The fact is, the U.S. oil and gas sector was in trouble even before the pandemic struck. Last year more than three dozen producers declared bankruptcy, hobbled by declining energy prices and rising debt. The pace of filings has quickened with the spread of the coronavirus, and even after the virus threat subsides — which is unlikely to be anytime soon — cheap renewables will drive more firms under…

“Some 3 million such sites are scattered across the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and most are leaking copious amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. But the U.S. could meet both challenges in one stroke — by paying laid-off energy workers to clean up abandoned wells,” Bloomberg wrote.

There is no chance that Trump, who prefers magical thinking to the science he doesn’t even try to understand, will act. But a new administration could, easily and swiftly, act to the benefit of everyone on our warming planet.

A series of studies by the Environmental Defense Fund involving 140 scientists and institutions shows that domestic methane leakage is 13 million metric tons per year.

Wasted Gas

That number may seem unfathomable, but everyone can grasp that it is 60% greater than the EPA estimates. This wasted gas, worth $2 billion, could fuel 10 million homes each year. Instead, it just fouls the atmosphere while trapping more heat from the sun which in turn melts ice, raising sea levels that will in this century start submerging areas where three billion people now live.

“By emitting just a little bit of methane, mankind is greatly accelerating the rate of climatic change,” says Steve Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Follow Bloomberg’s sage advice, though, and we get a two-fer – jobs and less environmental damage.

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