Weakening methane standards means putting workers at risk

Weakening methane standards means putting workers at risk
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The benefits of reducing methane leaks from the oil and gas sector are numerous, far-reaching, and undeniable. Reducing leaks reduces energy waste, protects workers and communities, spurs significant job creation, and helps combat climate change and air pollution.

There is no benefit to a methane leak, which is why it is so baffling that the EPA’s Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler has proposed to significantly weaken commonsense standards that limit methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry.

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The original standards, finalized by the EPA in 2016, would protect workers and local communities, address climate change, and create jobs by driving deployment of cost-effective, available technology and practices to reduce methane leaks. The EPA is now proposing to rollback key elements of this standard, including changes to the rule’s leak detection and repair requirements.

The EPA has tried to justify its action by saying that it hopes to avoid “unnecessary costs” to the oil and gas industry, but allowing methane leaks actually allows profits to disappear in thin air.

In fact, nationwide, methane leaks waste enough gas to heat nearly 10 million homes annually. That waste is entirely unnecessary: cost-effective solutions are available today and are being deployed by many companies, but most of the industry has failed to adopt these safeguards.

These solutions also represent a significant source of potential domestic job creation. BlueGreen Alliance research has found that installing and implementing the kinds of technology and practices required under the current standards would create nearly 5,400 direct and indirect jobs annually throughout a number of sectors, including manufacturing. With full and continuing adoption of leak-reducing technologies and processes at new and modified oil and gas facilities, over 50,000 jobs would be created over the course of the first decade.

Companies focused on developing and manufacturing methane reduction products and services are already cropping up around the nation. In 2016 there were already at least 76 such firms in the nation, providing jobs in at least 531 locations across 46 states. Importantly, these jobs offer a median hourly wage much higher than the national average.

Beyond the clear economic benefits of plugging methane leaks are the additional important benefits to the health and safety of workers and local communities. Natural gas leaks release not only methane, but a host of other dangerous air pollutants as well — like the carcinogen benzene.

EPA’s latest proposal to weaken its methane standards will result in an increase in this toxic pollution. The agency’s own proposal conceded that it would “degrade air quality and adversely affect health and welfare” and that “the environmental health or safety risk addressed by this action may have a disproportionate effect on children.”  

There is simply no reasonable justification for rolling back these standards. The EPA’s proposed rollback will put workers and communities at risk while wasting billions of dollars worth of energy and neglecting to take advantage of the opportunity to create thousands of quality jobs. EPA should immediately withdraw this proposal and implement the standards as written.

Kim Glas is the executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, which unites labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that build a stronger, fairer economy. Glas previously held senior leadership positions in the Obama administration — as the deputy assistant secretary for Textiles, Consumer Goods, and Materials at the U.S. Department of Commerce — and the U.S. House of Representatives. Follow Glas and the BlueGreen Alliance on Twitter @BGAlliance.