Bright flashing signs screaming “Ozone Action Day” returned to Pinedale this winter.
It’s a sign that it is time for the Department of Environmental Quality to redouble efforts to clean up our air by seeking further measures to limit oil-and-gas industry air pollution. And amid this unfortunate news, Congress is debating whether to rescind an Interior Department rule that would help prevent ozone pollution by cutting waste from oil and gas operations on public lands.
Scrapping this rule is the last thing we should be talking about right now.
In Pinedale, we live in the middle of the second-largest natural gas field in the United States. And even though we live in the county with the fewest people in the least-populated state in the lower 48, we know first-hand about air pollution.
The winter of 2017 brought seven days where ozone exceeded the national health standard. Higher ozone levels can lead to increased respiratory health problems especially in people with asthma, and for children and older adults. And in the Upper Green River Basin, this problem has been directly linked to pollution from local oil and gas development.
While Gov. Matt Mead’s administration and our fellow citizens have worked to put in place productive measures that have had a positive impact on ozone levels, this winter’s readings clearly mean that more needs to be done to protect our air.
The Wyoming DEQ recently hosted a meeting in Pinedale to share information about the wintertime ozone season, and their plans to further clean up the ozone problem.
“We’ve been able to reduce the emissions that lead to ozone,” Wyoming DEQ spokesman Keith Guille recently told the Jackson Hole News & Guide. “And that’s a good step forward, but we’re not done. We realize that. We’re still going to focus on this and try to curb those precursor emissions.”
But after the Pinedale meeting, DEQ Air Quality Division Administrator Nancy Vehr was in Washington testifying before Congress on Wyoming’s ozone efforts. Administrator Vehr seemed to focus on Wyoming’s past efforts, with no acknowledgment of the current challenges we face, the need for urgent action, and no mention of the recent ozone exceedances in the Upper Green.
We call on DEQ to move forward on further emissions reductions – such as making all oil and gas sources subject to leak inspection and pollution controls – rapidly. And while we look forward to bettering Wyoming’s rules, we’re concerned that Congress is considering meddling with the BLM’s methane rule that would reduce ozone precursor emissions on our public lands. While methane itself doesn’t lead to ozone pollution, other chemicals that come out of the ground with methane do; so cutting the waste of methane helps to clean up ozone pollution, too.
In January, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso introduced a resolution in Congress that would overturn the new methane rule developed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. This common-sense rule was modeled in part on Wyoming’s efforts to reduce natural gas emissions. U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi also supports repealing the BLM’s rule.
Barrasso and Enzi are hoping to use the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, to undo the BLM’s methane waste rule. The CRA is a blunt and rather extreme tool that would not only overturn the rule, but would prohibit agencies from issuing a similar rule ever again.
It’s particularly alarming that our Congressional delegation is pursuing the CRA on the methane rule because a huge majority of Wyomingites support keeping the rule in place. In fact, a recent poll published by Colorado College found that 87% of Wyoming voters want to keep the rule. That is in part because this rule has been going through a years-long process, with eight public forums and over 300,000 public comments. This was created for the public and by the public. It turns out that saving taxpayers money and simultaneously cleaning up air quality is a pretty popular thing.
I think everyone can agree that we need to fix this ozone problem so that we can walk outside in winter without having to worry if the air is safe to breathe. Clean, healthy air is important to everyone, and we should support national and state efforts to make sure we can cut down on ozone.
I call on the Mead administration to quickly more forward on state rule improvements and on Sens. Barrasso and Enzi to give up on trying to reverse the BLM’s methane waste rule. This winter has shown that now is not the time to reverse course on efforts to protect our air.
Elaine Crumpley is a board member of Citizens United for Responsible Energy Development in Pinedale. CURED has long worked for better guidelines to clean up the Upper Green River Basin’s air quality.