EU opts for stricter methane regulation, including imports
An ambitious new law to reduce methane emissions in the energy sector was approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday (9 May), despite a last-minute attempt by the far-right and conservative lawmakers to water down the regulation.
EU lawmakers meeting in Strasbourg voted with 499 in favour, 73 against and 55 abstentions on a draft Methane Regulation, confirming a stance adopted in late April by the Parliament’s environment and industry committees.
“Today’s vote is a commitment to more climate protection and energy sovereignty in Europe,” Green MEP and lead negotiator Jutta Paulus commented after the plenary voting session in Strasbourg.
“Without ambitious measures to reduce methane emissions, Europe will miss its climate targets and valuable energy will continue to be wasted,” she added.
The new targets cover methane emissions from the oil, fossil gas, and coal industries. MEPs are also calling for the inclusion of the petrochemicals sector in these rules.
Alongside a binding 2030 reduction target for methane emissions in the EU, the draft law puts the onus on EU countries to establish their own national reduction targets and introduces stricter requirements for gas infrastructure operators to detect and repair methane leaks.
Regarding methane emissions from coal mines, the law introduces a ban on venting and flaring by 2025 (in drainage stations) and by 2027 (in ventilation shafts) in a move aimed at enhancing worker safety in coal mines.
“Venting and flaring methane is an environmentally harmful practice. It is a complete waste. And there’s absolutely no reason to do this in a routine fashion,” Paulus said.
A key amendment brought forth by the Parliament is the extension of the regulation to imported fossil energy. With imports constituting more than 80% of the oil and gas consumed within the EU, MEPs are calling for importers of coal, oil, and gas to provide evidence that the imported fossil energy adheres to the regulations’ standards, starting from 2026.
Imports originating from countries with comparable methane emission requirements will however be exempted from this obligation.
Not all MEPs were happy with the draft text from Paulus. A small group of MEPs affiliated with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group had tabled amendments over the past few days to water down the draft regulation.
Those ended up being voted down.
The amendments included less stringent rules on leak detection and repair as well as venting and flaring, domestically and for imports, and reducing the frequency of inspections.
The Parliament’s text introduces requirements that are “technically unjustified and excessive in relation to the possible social and environmental benefits expected,” said Italian MEP Silvia Sardone, who is affiliated with the ID group.
“None of the proposed amendments were approved, so the text is for us exaggeratedly ideological and highly punitive for companies in the sector, which will have no choice but to charge the costs to end users,” Sardone told EURACTIV.
Green campaigners, meanwhile, welcomed the extension of the draft law to energy imports, saying it is a key step forward to achieve the EU’s climate goals.
“These important wins need to be safeguarded at all costs, especially for the upcoming trialogue negotiations, as 90% of the gas that we consume in the EU comes from imports,” commented Esther Bollendorff from Climate Action Network (CAN) after the vote.
“With this result, backed by a large majority, we have a good basis to tackle the low-hanging fruits of methane emissions from the energy sector, crucial in the fight against climate change,” she added.
Far-right accuses NGOs of lobbying
During the plenary debate, several MEPs from the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group complained about the influence of green NGOs in shaping the text.
In February, Green MEP Jutta Paulus was accused of having entrusted the drafting of compromise amendments to the NGO Clean Air Task Force (CATF), as reported by Politico.
Sardone, who was at the time co-negotiator on the Methane Regulation for the environment committee, decided to withdraw from her role and was replaced by Pascal Canfin, a French MEP from the centrist Renew Europe group.
“I did not wish to sign a text that was influenced from outside by NGOs and that produced a compromise in which the interlocutors were not only those present at the parliamentary tables,” she told EURACTIV.
Paulus refuted the accusations, saying her adviser had used a Word document containing comments from the NGO as the basis for the legal text. In comments to Politico, she maintained that the amendments were solely written by herself and her team.
Valentina Romano, EurActiv.com
This article first appeared on EurActiv.com, an edie content partner