By Alex Renirie, Beyond Dirty Fuels organizer
On May 12, the EPA finalized the first-ever national safeguards on methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. And communities across the country, particularly those living in heavily drilled areas, are celebrating this critical step toward protecting citizens’ health and our global climate.
The new safeguards represent one piece of a three-part suite of rules designed to fulfill President Obama’s goal of reducing methane emissions by 40-45 percent by 2025, a cornerstone of his administration’s Climate Action Plan.
Methane is 86 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 during its first 20 years in the atmosphere, and many see regulating it as the next big step for mitigating global climate change. Now we as a country are one step closer to that goal.
New Mexico has been an invaluable player in the national campaign to reduce industrial methane emissions, and all who have worked on the initiative deserve to celebrate this accomplishment. EPA has paid particularly close attention to our state throughout the rulemaking process, in part due to our high level of oil and gas development, the strong support of our U.S. senators and U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, and the strong coalition of partners and activists committed to seeing these rules finished.
One notable characteristic that makes the methane rules unique is that often industry is on our side. We knew as early as February 2013, when our neighboring state, Colorado, passed its own statewide regulations on oil and gas methane, that these standards are a unique win-win opportunity for industry and environmentalists alike.
New Mexico taxpayers have lost out on more than $42.7 million in royalty revenue since 2009 from leaking methane gas, and that means companies too are losing profit. But when producers are required instead to install common-sense technologies that capture that gas and keep it in the system, New Mexico makes more money and avoids the negative climate and health impacts caused by methane pollution. With the finalization of the first EPA rule, all New Mexicans should be applauding economic sensibility and environmental protection.
A big thank-you is also due to Sens. Udall and Heinrich. Both leaders took it upon themselves more than a year ago to champion rules from EPA and BLM that help fulfill our national commitments for methane reduction. They have tirelessly advocated for the rules and helped inspire a movement in New Mexico consisting of diverse organizations, volunteers, and activists across the state who recognize the importance of this issue and have taken action to fight methane pollution.
A giant round of applause is also due to all the citizens who submitted comments, attended a public hearing, wrote a letter to the editor of their local newspaper, attended a forum event or signed a petition calling for action on methane and supporting EPA’s action. During the comment period for the now finalized rule, 27,000 New Mexicans submitted supportive comments to the EPA docket, the largest number per capita of any state in the country. Together we are building a movement that exposes the dangers of oil and gas extraction, and this is one significant win we should all celebrate.
Of course, our work is not finished. The BLM’s complementary methane rule covering public lands is expected to be finalized sometime this fall. And the EPA still must follow through on its commitment to regulating methane pollution from existing oil and gas facilities. A timeline has been established, and activists around the country will continue to pressure the EPA to write the rule quickly and the next administration to prioritize an existing source standard. Together, building on the momentum generated by this win, we will succeed in cutting this toxic greenhouse gas across the board.
Featured image by Joshua Doubek at https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27166619