Commentary

Our health demands action on methane

Inaction in Congress is a real and present danger to all of us

May 27, 2021 5:00 am

(Xuanyu Han/Getty Images)

It’s time for our elected congressional leaders to step up and take meaningful action to improve our health.

With just one vote, Colorado’s delegation can either acknowledge that methane emissions are the leading culprits in greenhouse gasses and therefore a profound threat to our public health, or they can turn a blind eye and allow the worst impacts of climate change to continue to erode our health, exposing our communities to increased underlying health conditions and premature death. As a health care professional I’m all too familiar with the preventable nature of so many of the illnesses and diseases I see at work. I’m also aware of my and everyone else’s responsibility to keep our society healthy and make a healthier world for our children.

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Methane is one of the world’s worst, most powerful climate pollutants, and it is already responsible for about 25% of the climate change we’re experiencing today, such as hotter temperatures, more intense wildfires, drought, an increase of pests carrying vector-borne diseases, lower livestock and crop yields, and strange and severe weather events such as flooding. Colorado has understood this reality for years and has been working to put in place stronger requirements, particularly in the oil and gas sector, for methane emissions, but we can’t do it alone. Existing oil and gas infrastructure is responsible for 75% of the industry’s methane waste and pollution problem.

That is a real and ongoing threat to our health. Methane released into the air brings with it harmful pollutants that have significant public health consequences. This includes toxic chemicals like benzene, which are linked to cancer, and smog-forming pollutants that can trigger asthma, among the many other impacts, verified by years of scientific study. The recently released 2021 State of the Air report from the American Lung Association ranks the Denver metropolitan area eighth of 229 cities in the nation surveyed for poor air quality due to high ozone.

In recent years, we have moved backward at the federal level toward no regulation of methane emissions, no regulation for gas pipelines and other infrastructure, and turning a blind eye to regulations on hundreds of aging oil and gas facilities. We need congressional action to make it clear that this is not the direction our country should head and that public health impacts of inaction are a real and present danger to all of us. Our communities need this immediate action, particularly those located closest to oil and gas operations in the direct line of emissions, which are often those least equipped to manage the ongoing impacts.

With one simple vote, Congress can get regulation of methane from the oil and gas industry back on track. A bipartisan resolution before the House and the Senate will, if approved, restore sensible pollution protections against methane and clear the way for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt next-generation standards for new and existing oil and gas operations.

Before you decide this has to be a big, intractable fight, consider this: Support for reducing oil and gas methane waste is widespread and bipartisan. Even leading oil and gas companies and organizations including ShellBPEquinorEQTTotalJonah Energy, CheniereEquitrans Midstream, and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America all support this vote and the change it will bring. They know that cutting methane emissions will actually create jobs finding and fixing leaks in the field, manufacturing equipment, or developing the latest methane mitigation technologies.

Our leaders in Washington, including Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, and Rep. Diana DeGette deserve our thanks for taking this crucial step to reinstate vital climate and clean air protections, and clear a thicket of red tape that would otherwise delay EPA from tightening these standards and reign in oil and gas pollution.

The reality is our public health deserves and requires nothing less.

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Mike Kingsbury
Mike Kingsbury

Mike Kingsbury is a registered nurse from Denver who has spent most of his 20-year career as a bedside nurse in hospitals and nursing homes. He works with Healthy Air and Water Colorado at the intersection of climate change and public health.

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