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EEN Applauds New Methane Safeguards for Pennsylvania

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Today, December 2, 2023, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final standard to curb wasteful methane emissions and other harmful air pollutants from the oil and gas sector. On behalf of the more than 600,000 pro-life Christians who spoke out with EEN for stronger methane pollution safeguards over the last decade, the Evangelical Environmental Network applauds President Biden and EPA Administrator Regan for taking this bold action to cut methane pollution from oil & gas production.

“Today’s new methane safeguards are a momentous victory for the health of our children. Future generations will look back on this as a game-changing moment in the fight for a safe climate,” stated climate scientist and President/CEO of EEN, Rev. Dr. Jessica Moerman. “As Evangelicals, we take seriously our commitment to defend the life of every child and every person at every stage of life. Methane pollution and associated toxics are linked to birth defects, asthma, cancer, and more. That’s why for the last decade evangelicals have been out front pushing for strong common-sense methane safeguards. Since 2014, over a half-million pro-life Christians have called for the end of unnecessary practices by the oil and gas industry that carelessly waste methane and emit toxic pollutants into the air we breathe. While we may not agree on everything, we thank President Biden for making methane pollution a priority in this administration and for finalizing a truly robust standard. This is a rare case where the final standard is even stronger than what was originally proposed. Methane pollution, however, is a global problem. We call on national governments across the world to match the United States’ ambition in cutting climate-warming methane.”

Fossil fuel pollution, including methane, is the leading environmental threat to children’s health worldwide, robbing our children and loved ones from reaching their full God-given potential. Across the Commonwealth, over 300,000 children and 1.4 million Pennsylvanians live, work, play, or go to school within the half-mile health threat radius of oil and gas production. This includes over 950 schools and daycares and the front yards and front doors of communities of color and low-income communities, who are disproportionately impacted and exposed. According to the American Lung Association, air quality in the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Lancaster, Harrisburg, and York ranks among the 25 most polluted cities in the U.S. With warmer temperatures comes increased smog and earlier springs and later falls, resulting in increased asthma and allergies as well as increased chances of vector borne disease such as Lyme Disease. This is a huge impact area in Pennsylvania, with the Commonwealth leading the nation in reported Lyme Disease cases

Methane pollution not only harms those living locally but also has a significant global impact as a potent greenhouse gas responsible for nearly one-third of climate warming since the Industrial Revolution. Medical research finds that extreme heat, which is becoming more severe and more widespread with climate change, contributes to complications in pregnancy, pre-term birth, heat-illness and death amongst infants, young children and student athletes, and even impacts children’s ability to learn. Research, however, also finds that cutting methane pollution is the fastest way to slow global warming now and that cutting leaks from oil and gas pipes used in fossil fuel production is one of the quickest ways to reduce methane emissions.

EPA’s new safeguards will phase out wasteful non-emergency flaring practices at all new and most existing sources within the next two years, which the International Energy Agency calls the single most impactful measure to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The standard incentivizes oil and gas operations to deploy advanced technologies and innovations to monitor and eliminate leaks over the entire lifecycle of oil and gas infrastructure, implement routine advanced leak detection and repair programs, replace leaky equipment with state-of-the-art zero-emission pumps and controllers, advances public transparency on verified third-party emission monitoring, and makes important strides towards ensuring methane super-emitters no longer slip through the cracks. Implementing these practices is highly cost-effective, with a significant proportion resulting in no net-costs and little-to-no impact on consumer and household energy rates. 

Altogether, the new methane safeguards are expected to eliminate an estimated 80% of wasteful methane leaks and prevent approximately 58 million tons of methane (equivalent to 1.5 billion tons of CO2), 16 million tons of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and 600,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants from being released into the air we breathe over the next 15 years. 

The new EPA methane standard is not only good for our health, climate, and God’s creation, but will also create thousands of new, family-sustaining careers in manufacturing, construction, and maintenance operations to deploy leak reducing technologies and practices at new, modified, and existing oil and gas facilities. It also represents wise stewardship of our precious natural resources and good fiscal management. Methane leaks, if captured instead of being wasted into the atmosphere, could heat and power millions of homes and generate billions in revenues. 

While the new standards are good news, more work must still be done for Pennsylvanians to reap the benefits. Specifically, Pennsylvania must put in place a robust State Implementation Plan (SIP), which provides a plan for implementation, maintenance, and enforcement and falls under the responsibility of the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Under the finalized standard, states will now have 24-months after the standard’s issuance, adding 6 additional months to the originally proposed timeline, to design and submit a SIP to the EPA. States, however, must still begin implementation of the SIP within 36-months of the standard’s issuance. The PA DEP regulates new sources of emissions of methane from oil and gas extraction activities under the Air Pollution Control Act and standards adopted under the act; its Air Quality Permitting Program; and by implementation of certain codified federal pollution safeguards. The PA DEP will oversee everything, from pipeline and extraction methane emissions and enforcement to interacting primarily with companies and continuing to regulate permitting. The PA DEP will also receive funds for well-capping and will handle the venting/flaring and implementation side of the standards.

While we celebrate these landmark safeguards for our health and the hope of a safe climate, this is only just the beginning. To give our children across the Commonwealth the healthy future they deserve, we call on Pennsylvania state government, the EPA industry, and other stakeholders to come together and move swiftly to fully implement these new safeguards and finally put a stop to wasteful and toxic methane pollution emissions.

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