Podesta: White House Ready to Plug Methane Leaks

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."