Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater
By Kristin Winn
In the ongoing discussion about Congress doing away with the recently passed regulation on the flaring and waste of methane, we seemed to have lost sight of several key issues that concern me. Why are we so willing to allow oil and gas companies to waste a public resource by flaring off methane and not fixing leaks? And yes, Colorado has already passed a state rule that requires leaks to be fixed and venting kept to a minimum, but here in western Colorado, we see the results of air pollution from the west being blown into our cities and towns, fouling our air as well. Air pollution knows no boundaries, and the Uinta Basin of Utah, right on Colorado’s western border, has air quality that exceeded federal ozone standards on many occasions.
If energy development is such a high priority for our country, and energy independence so important to our national economy, I would expect that conserving energy resources and not wasting gas through leaks and flaring (burning) should also be very important. However, the recent move by the House of Representatives in Washington to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn this rule is extremely short-sighted. Rep. Tipton voted for the CRA resolution to get rid of the BLM’s rule.
Regardless of industry comments to the contrary, this rule went through a long, extensive public process before it was approved. I myself felt so strongly about this rule that I traveled six hours to Denver (due to a travel restriction on I-70) to be there in person to testify in favor of this rule. Many others traveled great distances as well to participate in other public meetings, and 300,000 public comments were considered by the BLM before the rule was finalized.
Natural gas pollution (in particular, the volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that come out of the ground with methane) is a contributor to ground level (bad) ozone, which causes air pollution and can make it extremely difficult for children and older adults such as myself to breathe. Air pollution aggravates asthma and COPD, contributes to heart attacks and strokes, and kills millions of people each year worldwide. We’ve all seen the horrible pictures of what air pollution can look like if we don’t address the problem.
I spent 20 years working in public affairs in municipal government conducting hundreds of public meetings and open houses. One of the most frequent criticisms I heard from the public was “our opinion doesn’t matter.” I spent a lot of time assuring people that it does, especially at a local level. Congress needs to take seriously the concerns expressed by the public about the waste and loss of public resources when methane is allowed to leak, or be vented or flared.
I hope the extremists in Congress who are pursuing the use of the CRA to reverse the BLM’s methane rule will reconsider. If the CRA passes to reverse the methane rule, what’s worse is that Congress will be hamstrung from addressing this issue again in the future. This is not good government. Good government means identifying problems (the waste of public resources from the leaks and flaring of methane, for instance) and formulating a solution. I felt that the methane rules that were passed were well-thought out and a great step in eliminating that waste.
The rule’s fate still hangs in the balance as the Senate considers whether or not to keep the rule. Fortunately, some republican Senators have recently announced they would vote no on the CRA. Sen. Graham recently told Politico: “I think the CRA approach to this particular issue is heavy-handed because if you do away with this regulation, you can’t have a similar one.” Other conservatives have weighed in on the issue and support keeping the rule, saying simply that “waste is not conservative.” I agree.
The BLM has a legal mandate to reduce the waste of public resources. Doing so has the added benefit of helping to eliminate air pollution. If we can eliminate some of that pollution, eliminate waste and save taxpayer dollars, that’s what I would call good governance.
I urge our congressional delegation, and especially Senator Gardner who is still undecided, to leave the methane rules in effect and not throw the baby out with the bathwater by overturning this rule through the use of the CRA. The Senate could vote on this at any time.