The Trump Administration’s Rollback of Methane Safeguards Harms Public Health
In July, the Trump administration finalized its proposal to eliminate methane protections from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) New Source Performance Standards, a move that will let polluters in the oil and gas industry off the hook for polluting our air and threatening the health of families across the country. As moms, we do our best to keep our children safe, and as COVID-19 cases continue to climb across the country, it’s more important than ever that our families remain healthy.
Across our country, we have a staggering methane waste and pollution problem. The oil and gas industry releases 13 million metric tons of methane and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere every year. The problem is even more evident if you look at the pollution right in our backyards. In New Mexico, oil and gas operators emit 1 million metric tons of methane each year, five times more pollution than EPA data suggests and in Pennsylvania, oil and gas operators emit 1.1 million metric tons of methane each year, 15 times more pollution than what oil and gas companies reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Methane pollution is accelerating the pace of climate change. As a potent greenhouse gas, methane is approximately 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the near term. Cutting methane pollution from the oil and gas industry is one of the best tools we have to confront the climate crisis, and yet the Trump administration and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler have eliminated the very federal methane protections designed to help keep us safe from the most severe climate impacts
A growing body of scientific studies show that people living near oil and gas operations are at an increased risk of exposure to industry’s air pollution and are more likely to suffer from an illness associated with breathing polluted air. Across the country, 12.6 million people live within a half mile radius of oil and gas facilities and are exposed to dangerous oil and gas air pollution. This air pollution can cause asthma attacks, respiratory disease, and lung infections — the very same underlying medical conditions that the CDC states can put people at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Of the 12.6 million Americans living within a half mile of an oil and gas facility, more than on million are Black Americans who bear the burden of dangerous pollution in their neighborhoods. This reality is particularly true in states such as Texas and Louisiana. At the same time, Black Americans, Indigenous, and people of color across our country are disproportionately dying from COVID-19.
It’s why it cannot be overstated how the coronavirus pandemic has thrown into stark relief the inequities that so many have already been living: we are a country that has accepted the existence of sacrifice zones, places where communities experience health disparities because of pollution. The last thing that frontline communities need, particularly in the middle of an escalating public health emergency, is the elimination of methane pollution safeguards that protect their health.
While our home states of New Mexico and Pennsylvania are working to cut methane pollution at the state-level, federal safeguards remain essential because air pollution doesn’t stop at state borders. The efforts of states like our own are undermined by pollution in oil and gas producing states across the country. While it will be important for states like New Mexico and Pennsylvania to adopt strong, comprehensive protections the truth is we cannot meaningfully address the growing methane pollution problem without federal leadership. And unfortunately, the President and his EPA chief and former energy lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler, have failed to lead and protect public health. Instead, they are letting polluters in the oil and gas industry get away with polluting our air without any oversight at the federal level-protecting the profits of corporate polluters rather than protecting our children’s health and futures.
As parents of young children, we envision a future where all children everywhere breathe clean air and thrive on a livable planet. The Trump administration’s rollback of methane pollution safeguards sinks this vision. It amounts to a thinly veiled attempt to limit oversight of the oil and gas industry at the expense of our children’s health. Moms across the country are rightly demanding that EPA Administrator Wheeler do his job and protect the health of our children from the harms of methane pollution. Our kids deserve nothing less.