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US proposing easing rules on climate-changing oil emissions

Pumpjacks work in a field near Lovington, N.M. The Trump administration is proposing a rule change to roll back requirements on detecting and plugging methane leaks at oil and gas facilities.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Once again, the Trump administration is reversing Obama-era greenhouse-gas regulations. This time, it’s the rules regarding methane released by the fossil-fuel industry, a major contributor to global warming. It’s part of a pattern with this White House that is starting to look not just like capitulation to industry but the enthusiastic sabotage of important environmental standards for sabotage’s sake. As always, President Donald Trump has his backward-looking base foremost in his mind.

How else to explain that — once again — the administration is pursuing this retrograde rollback despite the fact that major players in the industry don’t want it? It’s a replay of the situation with automakers, some of which are fighting the administration’s attempts to gut auto emissions standards.

Yet the administration is pushing ahead with both measures anyway, apparently eager to show Trump’s most ideologically obstinate fans just how environmentally irresponsible he can be.

Greenhouse gases released by industry, including methane, trap reflected solar heat in the atmosphere, preventing it from drifting back into space, pushing up the planet’s surface and water temperatures.

The delusions of climate-change deniers like Trump notwithstanding, the science, data and real-world effects are clear: Industrialization has pumped unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, spawning unprecedented global temperatures. Measurable effects already include melting arctic ice, rising sea levels, droughts and unstable weather patterns. Scientists around the world overwhelmingly agree that without major reductions in greenhouse gases, these events will reach crisis proportions in this century.

Former President Barack Obama joined most responsible world leaders in working to reduce those emissions with industry restrictions. Trump’s efforts to undo that progress has at times looked less like serious policy than environmental vandalism.

Several major automakers have infuriated Trump by deciding — based on business considerations and, we’d like to think, plain old corporate responsibility — to take a pass on the administration’s offer of lower emissions standards.

Now, Exxon, Shell and BP are urging Trump to keep current methane gas standards in place instead of rolling them back, as the administration is trying to do. “We believe sound environmental policies are foundational to the vital role natural gas can play,” Shell said in a statement. “Despite the administration’s proposal to no longer regulate methane, Shell’s U.S. assets will continue to contribute to that global target.”

Perhaps Trump will soon tweet-fume that those fossil-fuel companies are being too environmentally responsible, as he essentially complained about the automakers.

What a strange place Trump and his reactionary fans have brought us to, with anti-environmentalism so extreme that even industry recoils from it. As an official with the Environmental Defense Fund put it, these rollbacks aren’t science-based decisions, but “an ideological reaction to regulation.” Which is exactly the wrong way to make environmental policy.