James Osborne | Houston Chronicle
WASHINGTON - House Democrats and Republicans clashed Monday over a proposed fee on methane emissions that could cost the natural gas industry in Texas and other states billions of dollars a year.
Within their $3.5 trillion budget legislation, Democrats laid out plans to charge oil and natural gas producers $1,500 per ton of methane allowed to escape into the atmosphere, part of a wide ranging series of initiatives designed to address U.S. contributions to climate change.
In 2019 the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that through leaks and flaring the U.S. oil and gas industry released 91.5 million tons of methane, even as large companies like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell have sought to rein in those emissions to address climate change.
"There is no time for delay This summer the communities of nearly 1 in 3 Americans were hit by an extreme weather disaster," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Natural disasters cost Americans a record-shattering $95 billion in damages last year and they are expected to be even higher this year. Bold action is clearly needed — the days of incremental change are long gone."
At a hearing before the House Energy committee Monday, the proposal drew strong criticism from House Republicans, who accused the Democrats of risking massive increases in energy costs that could wreak havoc on the U.S. economy.
"This is nothing short of an attack on America's energy system," said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lake Dallas. "It's going to determine the nations fate for decades to come."
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest lobbying group, criticized the fee as a jobs killer, arguing instead for better government regulation on drilling over direct fees on industry.
President Joe Biden, with backing from the progressive wing of his party, has sought to get the United States on the path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury to avoid the most dire outcomes of climate change.
But right now the nation remains hugely dependent on oil, natural gas and coal, requiring a huge investment in new clean energy technologies that is drawing push back from even some Democrats.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., a critical vote in an evenly divided Senate, told CNN Sunday that he would not agree to any budget package that exceeded $1.5 trillion.
"The numbers they're wanting to pay for it and the tax changes they want to make, is that competitive? Does it keep us competitive or not? I believe there are some changes made that do not keep us competitive," Manchin said.
In the meantime, Republicans have sought to carve a path on climate change where they call for reduced emissions but argue that the best path is to allow industry to develop new technologies unobstructed by government regulation.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, described the methane fee as one of a long list of proposals by Democrats, "promising you'll take care of their every need because you supposedly care the most."
"It puts federal government in charge of energy production," he said. "It sucks money out of the free market and puts it in the hands of bureaucrats."