By Rebecca Stoner, Sierra Club
Trump’s EPA is trying to sneak through a rollback of popular, commonsense controls on methane pollution. (And we do mean popular: Even many oil and gas companies support them). They held just one public hearing on October 17 in Dallas, Texas.
But the Sierra Club, along with numerous national and grassroots partners, made sure that the people who stand to be most impacted by the rollbacks were out in force. More than 100 people testified about what they stood to lose if these crucial safeguards were to be rolled back, and the effects of oil and gas industry pollution on them and their communities.
The proposed changes are a little complicated, but here’s the gist. When fossil fuels are pumped out of the ground, transported, or processed, harmful gasses are released into the atmosphere. That includes the greenhouse gas methane (which has over 87 times the warming power of carbon dioxide during the time it remains in the atmosphere), carcinogens like benzene, and soot- and smog-forming volatile organic compounds.
Trump’s EPA wants to get rid of methane emission controls on new and modified oil and gas equipment, and all emissions controls in the transmission and storage segments of the industry. In effect, it’s eliminating its own authority to regulate pollution from existing oil and gas operations, the facilities responsible for most of the sector’s emissions. (Check out this blog post from the Sierra Club Lone Star chapter for a more comprehensive rundown).
This matters for two reasons: First, methane is an important driver of the climate crisis. Less well-known than carbon dioxide, it is nevertheless responsible for about 25% of the warming that’s already taken place.
Each year, fossil fuel corporations release 13 million tons of methane into the atmosphere, which warms the earth as much as operating nearly 300 coal power plants. Under the proposed rules, that number would likely go up by hundreds of thousands of tons.
Second, pollution from oil and gas facilities causes serious health problems. The EPA estimates that these new rules would increase emissions of volatile organic compounds by 10,000 tons and air toxins by 300 tons. That means communities would be at higher risk of cancer, heart attacks, asthma, and even premature death. Kids would lose school days, adults work days, and seniors and medically fragile individuals will spend more time in the hospital.
It might be easy for the industry insiders who populate Trump’s EPA to wave away the harm these rollbacks would cause. But for the workers, farmers, parents, grandparents, and students who spoke at the October 17 hearing, those dangers are all too real. A farmer spoke about how climate change was making it harder for him to stay afloat. A nurse talked about the impact of fossil fuel pollution on the children she treated for asthma.
Just three people spoke in support of the rollbacks — all connected to the oil and gas industry. That’s because the only advantage to these rollbacks is the estimated $122 million to $125 million they would save the industry at the cost of communities’ health and safety.
Trump’s EPA may not want the American people to voice their dissent against these dangerous, misguided rollbacks. But over 100 people made themselves heard regardless — and you can too.
Visit sc.org/methane, or text “methane” to 69866. You have until November 25 to submit a comment to the EPA.