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U.S. poised to create good jobs, safer environment by curbing methane leakage

Too often workers and environmentalists confront the false narrative that we can have either good jobs or a clean environment. In fact, we can and must have both. Reducing our nation’s methane emissions is a prime example of how we can simultaneously achieve our economic and environmental goals. That is why we applaud the newly announced efforts by President Barack Obama to curb methane pollution from the oil and gas industry.
Methane—a greenhouse gas and the main component of natural gas—is the second largest contributor to climate change. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, methane is far more damaging in the near term than carbon dioxide.
{mosads}Every year, billions of cubic feet of natural gas are deliberately flared and accidentally leaked by the energy sector, pouring uncombusted methane into our air and putting American workers and our communities at risk. In the United States, we could heat over 5 million homes each year with the wasted natural gas emitted by the oil and gas industry alone. As with so many of our problems today, eliminating these methane emissions would simultaneously address climate change, protect American workers, and ensure that our communities are safer and healthier.
In 2015, the Obama administration set a goal of reducing methane emissions across the United States 40 – 45 percent below 2012 levels by 2025. Already, the EPA has proposed safeguards to reduce methane leaks from new and modified oil and gas infrastructure, and now it is moving forward a process to develop comprehensive standards for existing oil and gas sources.
Just a few months ago, a gas well at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility in the Los Angeles community of Porter Ranch, began to leak uncontrollably. The dangers of methane and other chemicals contained within the leaking gas forced more than 2,000 families from their homes, as efforts to contain the leak for over four months. The long-term effects could be devastating. At one point, the leak was estimated to be the single largest source of climate change pollution in the state.
Incidents like Porter Ranch and the recent gas line explosion in Crooksville, Ohio demonstrate the need for comprehensive methane safeguards. Proposing and finalizing standards for existing oil and gas operations—in addition to the administration’s current proposal for new oil and gas facilities—would prevent significant waste and pollution and ensure that the energy sector is doing its utmost to protect workers and communities.
Waiting to modernize these systems results in a squandered opportunity to eliminate waste, create jobs, and reduce dangerous emissions. Those low-cost solutions—manufactured here in America—are another reason why it only makes sense to plug these leaks now through sensible and reasonable safeguards.

Union workers, such as members of the United Steelworkers, are at the forefront of manufacturing cost-effective, reliable materials to reduce methane leaks, which advances safety, training, and quality throughout the energy sector. This includes facilities like the Dresser-Rand facility in Olean, New York represented by United Steelworkers local 4-4601, which manufacture methane mitigation products like compressors.
States like Colorado have already initiated strong policies to rein in natural gas leaks in oil and gas processing and transport operations, and this January, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania announced his intention to enact similar policies and expand them to existing facilities. California is also advancing comprehensive policies to reduce leaks both in natural gas distribution and upstream oil and gas operations. 
As efforts continue to protect workers, communities, and our climate from pollutants like methane, we must invest in job-creating sectors like clean and renewable energy as well. Doing so is another example of how our communities can tackle environmental challenges to the benefit of our workers and our economy.

Brune is Executive Director, Sierra Club and Gerard is President of United Steelworkers

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