With Federal Guidelines Disappearing, Governor Wolf Must Lead and Protect Pennsylvanians
Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) announced its plan to reduce air pollution from existing oil and natural gas facilities in the Commonwealth. Pennsylvanians had been waiting for this critical step for almost two years, which made it all the more frustrating to see that DEP’s plan was essentially a carbon copy of 2016 federal guidelines and recommendations. Those guidelines – referred to as Control Techniques Guidelines or CTGs – represent the national floor and would exclude a significant number of air pollution sources in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry. However, shortly after DEP put forward its proposal, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced his intent to seek public comment on withdrawing the CTGs in their entirety. With the Trump administration continuing to roll back pollution standards, Governor Wolf cannot rely on federal rules to protect our air, health, or climate. He must ensure that Pennsylvania takes full responsibility for its own public health and clean air protections.
Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas in the country. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, leaks at almost every stage of the natural gas supply chain. Methane carries with it a range of other harmful pollutants, which pose an unnecessary health risk to residents who live near gas operations, as well as downwind residents across the state. In 2015, the most recent year with available records, the natural gas industry’s own self-reported data showed the industry emitted over 112,000 tons of methane into Pennsylvania’s air – an increase from 2014. That is equivalent to emitting over 9.6 million tons of CO2 over a 20-year timeline. It also equals the annual greenhouse gas emissions from over 540,000 passenger vehicles. Meanwhile, top-down studies that actually measure the methane content in the air show that emissions are even higher. Controlling methane pollution is a straightforward, cost-effective way to cut harmful pollution, reduce greenhouse gases, and create jobs in the methane mitigation industry.
Governor Wolf promised to control methane emissions from oil and gas activities during his 2014 campaign. Once in office, in January 2016, the governor announced a multi-step plan designed to fulfill his campaign promise, which included a commitment to develop a regulation on existing sources. To this day, Pennsylvania still does not have any standards that target methane emissions directly from the oil and gas industry.
Governor Wolf has a real opportunity to be the leader Pennsylvania needs right now. He can act to fulfill his commitments and ensure that Pennsylvania has strong, sensible, and effective policies. Pennsylvania’s rules must be broader in scope and more stringent than the requirements found in the federal guidelines (CTGs), which are likely to disappear. We cannot leave the health and safety of our communities and environment in the hands of the Trump administration. We need Governor Wolf to get serious about protecting Pennsylvania’s air quality by adopting a rule that cuts methane and harmful air pollution from existing oil and gas operations in the Commonwealth.