The Trump administration has done everything in its power to roll back “burdensome” environmental regulations, especially as they relate to oil and gas development. Regulations about venting, flaring and leaking of methane during oil and gas drilling, extraction, and transport have come under scrutiny by this administration.
Citizens for Clean Air has testified numerous times over the past five years about the regulation of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, and a major contributor to global warming. We traveled to Aurora to testify when the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) considered tightening regulations in our state. They passed those tighter regulations, and the amount of leaking, flaring and venting was cut considerably.
The EPA passed New Source Performance Standards under the Obama administration which called for reducing methane leaking, venting and flaring in oil and gas development, drilling and transport. These rules apply only to new and modified industry operations. Now, however, the EPA, yes, the Environmental PROTECTION Agency, the agency responsible for the environment, has been given the task by this administration to disregard their own studies and roll back reasonable methane regulations that were passed by the Obama administration. Oh yes, anything done by the Obama administration is surely bad, so let’s go back to the good old days and allow the oil and gas industry a free pass to pollute while they drill in every nook and cranny of our state and around the country.
My question is this: who exactly is “burdened” when there are regulations to protect the health of the public? The large oil and gas players are making millions of dollars by drilling on public land, at a lease cost as low as $3 an acre for the privilege. Now, those standards are being rolled back, and each of us will bear the burden of higher health care costs due to the additional methane in the air, which results in the formation of ozone, and more asthma, respiratory problems, heart disease, and hospital admissions.
2018 EPA Report results
In the summer of 2018, the EPA released a report that showed, by 2025, air pollution from oil and gas development is expected to result in a variety of serious health impacts, including:
1,970 premature deaths
1,000 respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions
3,600 emergency department visits
39,000 individuals with upper and lower respiratory symptoms
1,100,000 asthma attacks and 770,000 lost school days for children
3 million reduced activity days and 100,000 lost work days for adults
So, is it acceptable that the EPA should roll back regulations that could cut those numbers back considerably? Here in Colorado, we have proven that methane regulations work. According to an Associated Press story in the Denver Post on August 31, 2018:
“Energy companies have found and repaired about 73,000 methane leaks since 2015 under a state-required oil field inspection program, according to the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division. The number of leaks fell by 52 percent, from more than 36,000 in 2015 to about 17,250 in 2017, according a state report released last week.”
These regulations work.
I have a vivid recollection of Denver’s “brown cloud” in the 1970s. You could see it, taste it, and you certainly didn’t want to breathe it. Denver instituted many “regulations” starting in 1972. They began testing cars and trucks for admissions, outlawed new wood burning fireplaces, restricted burning on high pollution days, and switched from using sand to magnesium chloride to keep ice off the roads. All of these regulations cut down on the amount of air pollution, even as Denver’s population has more than doubled since the 1970s.
Now, however, the population growth in our state has caught up to us. Oil and gas development close to housing on the Front Range, more automobiles and trucks on the road, and higher summer temperatures are all contributing to poor air quality, especially in the urban corridor east of the mountains.
So why does the Federal Government suddenly think that regulations to improve our air quality are a bad thing? It is part of the standard line from this administration that regulations are bad, and should be eliminated whenever possible. I make the case that environmental regulations are designed to protect the health and welfare of the public and the environment. Maybe the oil and gas companies will have to work harder and pay a little more for the privilege of drilling and exploring. But the cost to individuals who experience poor health because of polluted air needs to be added in to the equation as well. You cannot fail to address the costs of pollution in medical bills, lost time in school and work, hospitalizations, and yes, 1,970 premature deaths by 2025.