On Earth Day, President Joe Biden lauded his administration’s environmental initiatives, but his rhetoric of making efforts to reduce methane emissions and contamination of drinking water sound more expansive than it really is.
Global Methane Oath
In remarks on April 22, Biden went so far as to say more than 100 countries have agreed to “eliminate methane.” The Global Methane Pledge is to reduce methane emissions, not eliminate them.
Biden: We cut methane and unite more than 100 countries when I attend the big gatherings we have in Europe, hundreds of countries around the world. … There are two things I can accomplish. One, I got a promise, a promise out of a hundred, I think that’s 144 of them, that they’re going to get rid of the methane. … This is the most damaging of all rising pollutants.
We asked the White House about Biden’s remarks, and we have not received a response to our question. However, there was a “major meeting” in Europe on climate change — the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, in early November — where more than 100 countries agreed to voluntarily reduce methane emissions by “at least 30 percent of 2020 levels by 2030.” The Global Methane Pledge, as it is called, is now attended by 111 participants.
The promise is global, not a 30% reduction for each country. If the goal is achieved, it “could eliminate more than 0.2˚C of warming by 2050,” the pledge’s website says.
The US and European Union invited other countries to join the pledge to reduce methane, which Biden said was important “to keep 1.5 degrees within reach,” referring to the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with previously. -industrial level.
Methane, emitted from fossil fuel systems, agriculture and landfills, traps heat more efficiently than carbon dioxide, although it also decomposes much more rapidly. As we have already explained, methane decomposes over about 12 years, while the lifetime of carbon dioxide can last thousands of years.
The United Nations says methane “is responsible for a third of the current warming from human activities.”
In a May 2021 report, the United Nations Environment Program and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition said there were “targeted measures available” that could reduce methane emissions by 30% globally by 2030, and said most of those measures were low-cost. With additional effort, the report says the reduction could be 40% to 45%, the level needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Because methane stays in the atmosphere for a relatively short time, the emission reductions have short-term effects. “Lower methane concentrations would rapidly reduce the rate of warming, making methane mitigation one of the best ways to limit warming in this decade and beyond,” the UN report said in its executive summary.
The White House released an action plan in November, calling for new rules for the oil and gas sector, outreach to landfills, and incentives for farmers and ranchers to reduce emissions.
PFAS in Drinking Water
Biden also said that the bipartisan infrastructure law “gives the public the money they need to get the forever chemical, PFAS, out of the water.” He said the chemicals were “lethal” and “we’re going to get rid of them all.” But it takes more than one law to eliminate “all” PFAS in drinking water.
PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, cover thousands of chemicals found in many products, including food packaging, waterproof materials, stain-resistant products, some cookware, fire-fighting foam, and cosmetics, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The Environmental Protection Agency describes them as “durable chemicals,” with components that “break down very slowly over time.” They have been detected in drinking water, as well as human and animal blood, soil, and air. “Scientific studies have shown that exposure to some PFAS in the environment may be associated with harmful health effects in humans and animals,” including cancer and immune deficiency disorders, the EPA said.
The infrastructure law, passed in November, includes $10 billion in funding to tackle PFAS problems in drinking water. The National Legal Review said the amount was “much more” than the federal government has ever dedicated to this issue, but also that “the funds will likely represent only a fraction of the money needed to address PFAS issues nationally.”
The Environmental Working Group said PFAS chemicals had been detected in drinking water systems that provide water to 19 million Americans, at group tracking in July 2019, but the group also estimated that up to 110 million people could have drinking water contaminated with the chemical.
The National Legal Review said that while the $10 million funding – most of which would likely include a wastewater plant and residential filtration system to filter chemicals – not enough to completely address the problem across the country, investments can have a “long-term effect” that “resultes in more litigation against PFAS polluters.”
In his remarks, Biden added: “We are starting to replace 100% — 100% of all the lead pipes … that are poisoning our water in America.” As we wrote earlier, the infrastructure law did initiate this process, but in this case too, the funding was not sufficient to complete a 100% replacement of lead pipe in the US
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