In mid-November, I traveled to Colorado to give testimony to the federal EPA regarding the rollback of methane standards that are vital to our community. I work for the Ohio Environmental Council as their southeast Ohio regional director, but I testified to amplify my own voice, as well as the voice of my neighbors as someone directly affected by methane pollution.
Our region is at the epicenter of the Utica Shale deposit and the booming oil-and-gas development that has accompanied the extraction of those resources. Compared to the rules already in place, these new rules proposed by the Trump administration do not go far enough in curbing harmful methane pollution, or in reducing how much of this harmful greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere. These limits on methane emissions are not just theoretical numbers on paper – they offer real-life protections for my family and yours.
Methane poses a great danger to our planet. With over 80 times the warming power of carbon pollution, methane is a dangerous driver of climate change. Right now, oil-and-gas industrial facilities release at least 8.1 million metric tons of methane pollution a year – the same climate impact as operating over 150 coal-fired power plants for a year or driving more than 145 million cars for a year.
Throughout history, my home region has seen resources extracted, again and again, yet we never see the benefits. While corporations get richer, our communities have been left with the legacy costs of that extraction. Desolate landscapes, stagnant economies, generations of sick children – we have paid more than our fair share to power this country.
First they came for timber, then coal, and now natural gas. Through all of this, we have had little protection from state and national agencies against these companies that can come in and buy towns outright.
While we may be rural, we are worthy of protections, which are paramount for our future.
My hometown of Cheshire is located within a stone’s throw of West Virginia, and Ohio’s Appalachian region flows directly into Pennsylvania and Kentucky. This is a region rich in natural resources, and because of its wealth in minerals, for decades it has borne the brunt of mining, drilling and extraction.
Because pollution does not stop at state lines, the health of people of the central Appalachian region has suffered as a result, and we’re also beginning to see the impacts of a changing climate. For southeast Ohio, our climate impacts are not seen in wildfires or rising sea levels. Rather, we experience climate change in the form of more voracious tick populations and therefore higher tick-borne illnesses, more extreme and more frequent rain events, and therefore more flooding and infrastructure damage.
While we may be small in number and dispersed in population, we matter. Our health is just as important as a New Yorker’s. Our future is just as bright as an Angeleno. The U.S. EPA should protect us and our children just the same.
Daily, I talk with folks from towns throughout the southeast Ohio region, and our experiences demonstrate the risks these communities face with more intensive oil-and-gas development. For example, in February of this year, a well explosion and resulting well-pad fire in Powhatan Point in Belmont County, Ohio, forced people out of their homes for almost three weeks while a still undisclosed amount of methane and other pollutants spewed uncontrollably into our air.
People in this community were left with nothing but questions and a phone number that led directly to the public relations line for the company responsible for the well pad. Trust me when I say this emergency hotline did little to quell the nerves of the 7-year-old who needed breathing treatments because of the poison in the air, or the little boy who had a “bug out” bag packed and ready at his door in case the evacuation order hit his home.
When companies are not good neighbors, when communities do not have the resources they need, it is vital that regulations, first responders and the U.S. EPA step in and protect the people and the environment.
It’s important to note that Ohio, under the proposed Trump Administration rule, is granted equivalency status and therefore can carry on with its existing methane leakage and detection program under the state agency’s General Permit. I applaud the Ohio EPA for staying the course on reducing methane pollution.
However, I reject the Trump Administration’s proposal because it does not go far enough to curb methane pollution from all oil-and-gas states, and as I stated before, pollution migrates across state lines.
There are many reasons to not let the proposed rule move forward. States continue to implement successful standards that enjoy broad support. For example, energy-producing states such as Colorado have vowed to continue their successful efforts to strengthen methane-leak detection and repair, and Pennsylvania recently did the same. Rolling back the U.S. EPA’s methane pollution standards would be reckless and take us backwards at a time when we can and need to implement solutions to cut methane pollution quicker than ever.
The U.S. EPA has the responsibility to protect Americans from the clear-and-present health threats from oil-and-gas pollution, but weakening these standards is an attack on communities located near these facilities who depend on these protections for simple survival. If the proposed rule moves forward, the health of families across Ohio will suffer.
Editor’s note: Carold Davey of Tuppers Plains is a former Appalachian transition fellow for ACEnet, UpgradeAthens and Rural Action, and current southeast Ohio regional director for the Ohio Environmental Council.