Sixteen Hispanic House Democrats ask EPA for tougher methane rule

Sixteen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Wednesday asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to tighten its rules on methane emissions, citing the particular impact of emissions on Hispanic and Latino communities.

The members, led by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Climate Change Task Force Chair Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), called the EPA’s latest methane rule “historic.” However, they called for two key expansions of its provisions: regular inspections for smaller oil and gas wells at risk of leaking, and further action to address so-called flaring, or burning gas it would not be profitable or safe to sell.

The letter notes that about 1.81 million Latino Americans live within a half-mile of an oil and gas well, citing data from the Environmental Defense Fund.

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“[U]nder the current proposal, operators that calculate lower potential emissions (less than 3 tons per year of methane) could still escape regular leak monitoring. This is problematic because these smaller, leak prone wells can release more methane or natural gas into the air than they produce,” the letter states. “Also, large leaks can occur at smaller well sites. EPA must address this issue by enacting comprehensive requirements for frequent leak inspections, without exceptions for smaller wells.”

Flaring, too, is a particular concern for low-income communities and people of color, the letter says, citing research from the University of Southern California that found Black, Indigenous and Latino communities are at disproportionate risks to their health from flaring. The practice has been linked to asthma, heart issues and premature births in pregnant women.

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In November, EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Joe Goffman addressed the lack of a flaring phaseout in the agency’s methane rule, suggesting that a later supplement could include such a provision.

“We’re using the myriad requests for specific comment in this proposal to try to get at … some of these issues, whether it’s coverage of sources and practices like flaring or the continual campaign that we and others have to improve the data, to continually bring it closer and closer into alignment as a reliable indicator of reality,” he said at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.