As a nurse, I recognize the important role that clean air, clean water, and a clean environment have in protecting the health of all Americans. My nurse colleagues and I look to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow its mission of protecting public health and the environment.
Recently, the EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittUnderstanding the barriers between scientists, the public and the truth Overnight Energy & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Trump-era EPA board member sues over firing MORE acknowledged that methane pollution is a potent greenhouse gas. Unfortunately, his actions over the course of the last year have sharply contradicted his newfound recognition of this problem.
Pruitt’s acknowledgment of the science comes after a year after taking the helm of the agency, during which time he has worked diligently to rollback critical public health safeguards. Despite these attempts to go against well-supported research, Pruitt recently conceded that methane gas is in fact, a potent air pollutant that can make the air our families breathe toxic, especially to those most vulnerable among us, such as children with asthma.
Pruitt’s actions throughout this past year indicate that he cares more about oil and gas lobbyists than he does about the health and future of American families. Although he may claim to care about methane pollution, Pruitt has used his position to take aim at commonsense rules that would reduce methane and other pollution from the oil and gas industry and make it easier for our kids to breathe. We need Pruitt and the EPA to put the health of our families first and allow these rules to move forward as originally proposed.
In May, Pruitt proposed a two-year suspension of key provisions of the New Source Pollution Standards for the oil and gas industry. These reasonable safeguards were designed to limit the release of methane pollution during oil and gas or production and have an additional benefit of protecting communities from other harmful pollutants released alongside this potent gas, such as benzene and other smog-forming volatile organic compounds.
Pruitt is rolling back these protections, despite acknowledging that children will be negatively and disproportionately impacted by this suspension. Additionally, as Pruitt continues to block the methane standards that help reduce smog, he has also threatened to take away the tools that help states address smog-forming pollution from oil and gas sites in areas with unhealthy air pollution.
Americans cannot afford any delay or repeal of methane pollution safeguards. Every year, 500,000 days of school are missed by children due to the health impacts of ozone smog linked to oil and gas pollution. What’s more, over 9 million Americans face greater risk of life-threatening cancer because they live in areas directly impacted by the toxic emissions of nearby oil and gas sites.
Methane pollution poses a serious and immediate risk to the health of Americans. Instead of delay and dismissal, methane pollution should be addressed with seriousness and urgency — especially by the leader of the EPA whose primary mission is to protect public health and the environment, especially for children who are unable to advocate for themselves.
Besides having a positive impact on the health of communities near oil and gas development sites, reducing methane and volatile organic compounds pollution makes fiscal sense. The recently released Lancet Commission on Pollution notes that since 1970 for every dollar invested in reducing air pollution an average of $30 has returned to the U.S. economy. These investments are immeasurable for families and children whose health is improved by these critical protections.
If Pruitt is worried about methane pollution, it is not only within his power as head of the EPA to do something about it — it is his job to do something about it. It is simply not enough for Pruitt to say that our families’ health is important to him — it’s time for him to prove it.
Katie Huffling, RN, MS, CNM is a nurse and certified nurse-midwife and the executive director the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, the only national nursing organization focused on the intersection of the environment and health.