By Camilla Feibelman, Chapter director
Eighty-five of you (parents, kids, faith leaders, Sierra Club members) spoke in favor of strong smog rules in front of the Environmental Improvement Board at the end of September. Wait. What’s smog, you ask? It’s the brown stuff you breathe in big, polluted cities right? Well, turns out that even though Albuquerque and Las Cruces have car-driven smog problems, the counties with F grades from the American Lung Association on ozone are Lea, Eddy and San Juan. That’s because ozone precursors leak out of oil and gas facilities alongside methane and then combine with other pollutants and sunlight to create smog, which drives respiratory disease.
The state’s rules, when they come out in final form in a few months, can help improve health conditions for local residents and have the additional benefit of keeping methane out of the atmosphere — which has a big climate benefit.
The Environmental Improvement Board hearing lasted two weeks and involved testimony, witnesses, and cross-examining, all while climate and community groups made a case for the strongest safeguards possible. Our lawyers, witnesses and public commenters advocated for some areas of improvement to the draft rule.
“As a practicing primary-care physician in New Mexico for the past 15 years, I have seen again and again the negative impact of poor air quality on the health of our communities: children whose uncontrolled asthma forces them to miss school and spend their days in the hospital and elders whose worsening emphysema forces them to stay indoors and limits their ability to enjoy life,” Dr. Jesse Barnes told the EIB. “The science clearly shows that certain oil and gas industry emissions are related to higher rates of respiratory and cardiac diseases.Unfortunately, there are parts of New Mexico where those industries are heavily concentrated and the air quality is unsurprisingly affected.”
Our coalition attorneys requested that those living closest to development be protected by requiring more frequent inspections to find and fix leaks. We won support from the Environment Department and, interestingly, Occidental (an oil and gas company) for that proposal.
We also want stronger requirements for operators to capture gases during the completion of a well and for pneumatic controllers that are used in oil and gas production.
Strong protections at the state level can set a strong baseline for the federal EPA as it prepares to draft its own methane rules for wells on public and private lands. These rules are currently under interagency review. By setting the bar high locally, we help drive the demand for strong rules federally and ensure that states like Texas that aren’t strongly regulating methane and ozone precursors locally aren’t polluting communities in our state and exacerbating our global climate crisis. Keep your eye out for your opportunity to engage on these federal rules.
An excerpt of EIB testimony from Dr. Jesse Barnes:
That is why many of my colleagues and I support of the state Environmental Improvement Board’s proposed new regulations on ozone precursor emissions. No New Mexican should have to choose between economic development and their health. We need strong, state-wide regulations with no loopholes, to ensure that all New Mexicans can enjoy clean, safe air.
Pulled from twitter:
Celerah from Moms Clean Air Force – “New Mexico has an opportunity to lead on ozone rules that protect our children, our communities, and help combat climate change. We owe it to our children to take it.”
Sierra Club – Public commenter thanks oil and gas for paying for his daughter’s playground. But do they pay for his neighbor’s daughter’s nebulizer? Just curious. Ironically, stopping smog costs next to nothing.
Sierra Club – Thank you Dr Jesse Barnes for speaking on behalf of Primary Care Advocates, and letting @NMEnvDep and EIB know the importance of having strong rules to protect children, the elderly, and POC who you have first hand seen suffer disproportionately from the impacts of air pollution.
Sierra Club – From 10-13 yo kids in the Global Warming Express – leaders in NM you have the power to make this happen, what on earth are you grown ups doing? Please stop taking profits from oil & gas. I don’t want to watch our future go to waste – the is very fragile
Featured image from Hobbs News-Sun.