This week, California’s Air Resource Board (ARB) released a strong and likely final draft of new regulations that will reduce methane pollution from new and existing oil and gas facilities across California.
Methane essentially is natural gas — wasting it is tantamount to wasting an energy resource. California producers report losing about 75,000 metric tons of methane every year, while nationally companies on publicly owned lands reportedly waste more than $1 million worth of natural gas every day. Alongside methane, oil and gas facilities also emit a list of toxic pollution like hydrogen sulfide, toluene, xylene, and benzene, all of which can be harmful to public health.
The new California rules mirror successful efforts in Colorado and Wyoming, where regulators understand that reducing methane emissions prevents resource waste, improves economic outcomes and reduces air pollution. Similarly, last year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued federal standards for new oil and gas facilities based on those state policies, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wrote a similar policy for oil and gas companies operating on federal or tribal lands.
But now those federal rules are in the crosshairs. The House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill to roll back the BLM standards, which are designed to reduce an estimated $330 million worth of natural gas that is wasted on public lands each year through leaks, intentional venting, and flaring. A similar attempt on the EPA rules is expected.
The attack on federal standards makes state rules all the more critical to the safe oversight of oil and gas activity around the nation.
Take Action: Send a message to California and the nation that you support efforts to cut methane pollution.
National Rollbacks Undermine California’s Efforts to Protect Communities
While California is the nation’s third largest oil producer, it’s also a major energy consumer, importing more than half of the oil and 90% of the gas required to meet the state’s energy needs. Even though passing California’s rules will reduce regional pollution and prevent our resources from being wasted, federal back-peddling will mean the large volumes of oil and gas California imports will have a bigger environmental footprint, and this can have an adverse impact on some of our most vulnerable communities.
For example, recent reports find that the Latino communities that make up approximately 40% of California’s population are often more adversely impacted by the industry’s emissions, which can increase smog levels and thus increase the frequency and severity of respiratory diseases and asthma attacks.
Across the country nearly 1.8 million Latinos live within half a mile of an oil or gas facility, and higher poverty levels and relatively lower rates of health insurance mean the health threats from air pollution, translate into a bigger health burden on Latino communities.
National Standards Can Create a Safety Net for All Communities
California rules should provide a moment of relief and celebration for those concerned with improving air quality, and stopping the unnecessary waste of our energy. But the stakes could not be higher for the rest of our nation.
Across the U.S, the oil and gas industry emits more methane pollution than any other sector. If Congress succeeds with its rollback plans, states may be left with little option other than to regulate at their own behest, which could lead to disparities that don’t protect all Americans equally.
This is why institutions are mobilizing to educate Congressional leaders of the danger and shortsightedness of federal oil and gas rollbacks. All communities deserve to be protected. By supporting CARB’s efforts, we can send a message to national leaders that communities here and across the country demand equal protections from this pollution.
Smart policies that reduce methane and other harmful oil and gas pollutants are exactly what California and the nation needs. Join EDF and thousands of others who are urging California and Congress to stand up for standards that ensure all American have access to a healthy economy and a healthy environment.
By Irene Burga