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EPA chief prepares to overturn Obama regulations
02:46 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

The Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal Tuesday that relaxes requirements for how energy companies monitor and repair methane leaks, rolling back an Obama-era regulation.

The draft proposal on the EPA’s website, which will be published in the Federal Register, would weaken a 2016 rule requiring energy companies to conduct leak inspections on their drilling equipment as regularly as every six months.

Under the EPA’s proposal, companies would perform a leak inspection at least once a year, in most cases, and every two years for low-producing oil and gas wells.

Oil and gas drillers are currently required to fix methane leaks within 30 days, but the new rules give a company 60 days to fix leaks.

The move from the EPA would make it easier for oil and gas companies to release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that scientists say contributes to global warming.

The New York Times was the first to report on the EPA’s proposed methane rules.

The EPA did not immediately return CNN’s request for comment.

Other proposed changes include doubling the amount of time between inspections of equipment that traps and compresses the natural gas and allowing gas energy companies to follow state-level methane standards, as opposed to federal standards, if they operate in a state with different standards.

In its draft proposal, the agency said it is making the changes because the previous administration “may have overestimated the emission reductions” when rolling out the 2016 rule.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a news release that removing these “excessive regulatory burdens” will save almost half a billion dollars from 2019 to 2025 and support the domestic energy sector, “a top priority of President Trump.”

The proposal drew praise from the two big energy groups, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance, which argued that the Obama rule tied up the industry in “red tape.”

The EPA said it will take comments for 60 days after the proposal is published in the Federal Register and plans to hold a public hearing on the issue in Denver.

Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the leading Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, called the proposal “wasteful and outrageous.”

“Rather than leaving these common-sense safeguards in place, which have been working for a year, the Trump EPA is prioritizing its big polluter friends at the expense of the health and well-being of New Mexicans and people across the country,” Udall said in a statement.

In August, the EPA announced its plan to devolve regulation of coal-fired power plants back to the states, which would boost the coal industry and increase carbon emissions nationwide. The agency also announced its proposal to freeze fuel-efficiency requirements for automakers and withdraw California’s waiver to set its own emissions standards.

CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.