Flaring of excess methane at oil and gas facilities may become more pervasive if the Environmental Protection Agency's revised methane waste rule takes effect. (Wild Earth Guardians)

CARSON CITY, Nev. – The Trump administration unveiled plans yesterday to roll back Obama-era protections designed to combat air pollution and climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency wants to revoke the Methane Waste Rule, which requires oil and gas companies to install technology to capture excess methane gas rather than burn it or vent it into the atmosphere.

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Paul Billings, national senior vice president for public policy at the American Lung Association, says the technology also reduces toxic compounds linked to smog.

“When you capture the methane pollution, you also capture volatile organic compounds which can be toxic, and these also help form ozone,” says Billings.

Studies have shown that communities close to oil and gas operations report higher rates of respiratory illness and low-birthweight babies.

Nevada is home to a small number of oil and gas operations, but that could change as the Bureau of Land Management under President Donald Trump is preparing to open up large tracts of public land for fossil-fuel leases.

EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the old rules were a duplicitous and unnecessary burden on the oil and gas industry.

Billings notes that the Trump administration has taken many steps that benefit industry over public health and the environment, including proposals to roll back regulations on tailpipe emissions and on pollution at power plants.

“This is just the latest in a long string of rules that jeopardize public health at the behest of polluters that are looking to escape meaningful oversight,” says Billings.

The rule change will soon be published in the Federal Register, which will kick off a 60-day public comment period on