Right now, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an opportunity to confront the climate crisis head-on and protect the health and safety of communities like mine by finalizing strong, comprehensive safeguards to cut methane pollution from the oil and gas industry.
Every year, the oil and gas industry releases 16 million metric tons of methane into our atmosphere. Methane is a potent climate pollutant with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the near-term. Hundreds of thousands of wells across the country generate just a trickle of usable product but are large and disproportionate emitters of methane.
This pollution has real and devastating impacts in communities across the country, including my own.
In Colorado, 81% of residents live in a county with at least one F grade for air pollution, according to the American Lung Association. Coloradans around the state have taken action by creating community-led air quality monitoring programs.
Community members around Suncor in Commerce City fought for and received money from a settlement after decades of pollution. They worked with experts and their neighbors to set up alerts and various methods of monitoring.
I have partnered with Colorado State University to ensure that there is air monitoring at Bella Romero in Greeley, Colorado after air monitors were removed by the state. Without air monitors at the school, we never would have known that an oil and gas well site less than 700 feet from the playground was leaking harmful carcinogens into the air while the kids got out of school. School officials would not accept results provided by the university even though they made sure to have the same equipment used by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. A rule from the EPA could make a huge impact and legitimize the work done by dozens of frontline community members fighting for their lives.
There is no time to waste, and we cannot miss out on this opportunity to protect the health of our children and the future of our planet.
In the United States, 17 million people live near an oil and gas facility. I am one of them. I have talked to my neighbors, family and friends — the sentiment is the same, people feel like they are being left behind. There is a real opportunity for the EPA to make communities like mine feel heard and that our health and safety is a priority.
I am counting on EPA to issue a draft rule that will eliminate routine flaring, eliminate potential loopholes that allow smaller wells with leak-prone equipment to forgo regular inspections, require oil and gas operators to use non-emitting equipment, and empower community groups to monitor emissions at the sites in our own backyards.
The EPA proposed new protections to cut methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. While this is an important step in the right direction, there is more work to be done to ensure that communities like mine are protected.
There is no time to waste, and we cannot miss out on this opportunity to protect the health of our children and the future of our planet. EPA must move swiftly and issue a draft rule by this fall that addresses these critical gaps to ensure that the agency finalizes the strongest safeguards possible.
Patricia García-Nelson was born and raised in Northern Colorado. This commentary is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license.
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