Podesta: White House Ready to Plug Methane Leaks

LAS VEGAS - AUGUST 11: President and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund John Podesta tours a LEED-certified building on the UNLV campus during the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 August 11, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Political and economic leaders are attending a two-day summit to discuss a domestic policy agenda to advance alternative energy for the country's future. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
March 19, 2014, 3:06 p.m.

White House ad­viser John Podesta said Wed­nes­day that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is get­ting ready to re­lease an in­ter­agency strategy for curb­ing emis­sions of the po­tent green­house gas meth­ane.

“We are in the throes of fi­nal­iz­ing a meth­ane strategy across the gov­ern­ment. I think you can ex­pect an an­nounce­ment in the not too dis­tant fu­ture,” he told re­port­ers dur­ing a West Wing brief­ing.

The strategy is called for in the White House cli­mate plan re­leased last June, but the tim­ing has been something of a mys­tery.

Podesta said it will be ready in the “near fu­ture.”

“That will set up a series of work streams for the fed­er­al fam­ily as a whole,” said Podesta, the Demo­crat­ic uber-strategist who form­ally joined the White House early this year.

Podesta on Wed­nes­day was part of a “roundtable” on meth­ane that En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz hos­ted earli­er in the day.

“Today’s meet­ing was the first in a series of roundtable dis­cus­sions, de­signed to bring to­geth­er rep­res­ent­at­ives from in­dustry, en­vir­on­ment­al groups, labor, aca­demia, oth­er NGO’s and states and loc­al­it­ies to share best prac­tices, tech­nic­al solu­tions, and policies that help re­duce meth­ane emis­sions from nat­ur­al gas sys­tems,” said Nam­rata Kolach­alam, an En­ergy De­part­ment spokes­wo­man, in a sep­ar­ate state­ment.

“This out­reach is part of a broad­er ad­min­is­tra­tion ini­ti­at­ive, set out in the Pres­id­ent’s Cli­mate Ac­tion Plan, which es­tab­lishes a fed­er­al task force to re­duce meth­ane emis­sions from a range of sources,” Kolach­alam said.

But while of­fi­cials want to im­prove con­trol of meth­ane from nat­ur­al-gas pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion, the White House and En­ergy De­part­ment have made clear that even with cur­rent leak­age, they view nat­ur­al gas as a cli­mate win­ner com­pared with the coal it is dis­pla­cing as a fuel source.

Podesta, who gathered re­port­ers to tout the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new Cli­mate Data Ini­ti­at­ive, said he sees a “strong net be­ne­fit from a shift to nat­ur­al gas.”

And White House sci­ence ad­viser John Hold­ren, at the same brief­ing, said the meth­ane strategy will help to fur­ther the cli­mate be­ne­fits of gas. He said there are op­por­tun­it­ies to “mag­ni­fy the ad­vant­age” that nat­ur­al gas has over coal, and over gas­ol­ine as a trans­port­a­tion fuel.

The view re­buts some en­vir­on­ment­al­ists who ar­gue the meth­ane leak­age prob­lem is big enough to make the na­tion’s nat­ur­al-gas boom a loser from a cli­mate per­spect­ive — es­pe­cially if it’s joined with a surge in li­que­fied nat­ur­al-gas ex­ports.

Re­search on the top­ic has yiel­ded an ar­ray of res­ults, and the White House cli­mate plan calls for both bet­ter data col­lec­tion, tech­no­lo­gies, and ad­min­is­trat­ive steps to help curb leaks.

Podesta, who was former Pres­id­ent Clin­ton’s chief of staff, joined the Obama White House after a dec­ade head­ing the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress, a lib­er­al think tank and ad­vocacy group that he foun­ded with deep White House ties.

A lot of his port­fo­lio is the second-term cli­mate agenda that rests on ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions. On Wed­nes­day he re­vealed just how much, es­tim­at­ing that work on cli­mate is con­sum­ing 50 per­cent of his time.

He also said that more ex­ec­ut­ive-level cli­mate ac­tions are com­ing from the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, in­clud­ing new ef­forts to in­crease en­ergy ef­fi­ciency in build­ings.

Planned EPA car­bon-emis­sions stand­ards for power plants are a pil­lar of the White House cli­mate plan, and EPA is slated to re­lease draft rules for ex­ist­ing plants in June.

Podesta did not say wheth­er EPA would move to set car­bon-emis­sions stand­ards for re­finer­ies. A Na­tion­al Journ­al story this month ex­plored why time is quickly run­ning out to craft those reg­u­la­tions.

A big fo­cus of Wed­nes­day’s brief­ing was the new Cli­mate Data Ini­ti­at­ive, a pro­ject that in­cludes work with Google and oth­er private-sec­tor play­ers to provide in­form­a­tion and map­ping on vari­ous top­ics such as fu­ture sea-level rise.

The pro­ject is part of White House ef­forts to help com­munit­ies be­come more re­si­li­ent to ex­treme weath­er events that sci­ent­ists say can be in­tens­i­fied by cli­mate change.

Podesta told re­port­ers that he’s also hope­ful that ac­cess to the data can help spur sup­port for ef­forts to com­bat cli­mate change.

“I think this be­gins to make clear what the risks are of in­ac­tion,” he said of the data. “I think that loc­al­iz­ing this in­form­a­tion gives people a sense of how it really af­fects them.”

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