Rev. Mitch Hescox
November 21, 2019
It’s no secret that many in our Pennsylvania General Assembly are wildly supportive of the natural gas industry, which remains a powerful economic force in our Commonwealth. However, the industry’s promises of good-paying jobs, royalties, impact fees, and campaign donations does not absolve its responsibility to be a good steward of our state’s common resources.
Nationally, Exxon Mobil, Shell, and BP have supported strong federal standards to reduce the leakage of natural gas and other toxins such as benzene, a carcinogen, from natural gas infrastructure. We expect Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry to do the same, and for the General Assembly to ensure that when it doesn’t, the industry will be held accountable for cleaning up its mess.
Yet our Pennsylvania House has passed or is considering bills collectively known as “Energize PA” that simply subsidize the natural gas industry without considering the threats to the health and lives of our children. HB 1100 has been passed and the rest — HB 1102, HB 1106, and HB 1107 — could be brought up as early as this week.
The Senate has been just as disappointing, passing SB 790, which allows Pennsylvania’s conventional natural gas drilling industry to pour radioactive waste water onto roads, pollute our streams without reporting spills, and preempt local governments’ ability to protect their own schools and playgrounds from toxic emissions.
Over 90 percent of the peer-reviewed medical research states that natural gas emissions threaten Pennsylvania’s children (both born and unborn), pregnant women and other vulnerable populations. Those living within a half-mile radius of production and transmission sites are at significant risk for health issues, including: a 25 percent increase in low birth weight infants and significant reductions in infant health, which predisposes individuals to lifelong health concerns; increased brain, spine, or spinal cord birth defects; congenital heart defects; up to 25 percent increase in children’s asthma; up to 86 times greater exposure to known cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene and toluene, and; increased anxiety and depression in pregnant women living near natural gas production sites.
According to the American Lung Association, the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Lancaster, Harrisburg, and York are already among the 25 dirtiest in the country. Today, more than 236,000 children and 945,000 adults in Pennsylvania have asthma. The fugitive emissions from natural gas operations increase smog (ground-level ozone), resulting in tens of thousands of additional asthma attacks each year. A new paper just released by researchers at Carnegie-Mellon adds to the mounting evidence that natural gas pollution is also one of the leading sources for increased soot (PM2.5) in our air. Soot already results in over 16,000 preterm births in the United States, causing over 5,000 infant deaths and is a leading cause of cardiac and respiratory diseases.
But you don’t have to live near a well to feel the health impacts of the natural gas industry. Leaking toxins threaten all of Pennsylvania’s residents. Methane (the primary component of natural gas) is a powerful greenhouse gas that is more than 86 times better at trapping heat than CO2 over its first 20 years in the atmosphere. Methane represents approximately 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that are currently warming the earth, resulting in more extreme weather, hotter temperatures, and increased smog.
Legislators in Harrisburg may want to think twice before rubber stamping Energize PA. Across the commonwealth, over 100,000 pro-life Christians have acted in support of responsible methane standards. We are conservative Christians who value human life and are strong believers in the tradition known as the “Protestant Work Ethic.” As such, we are quite tired of the long-standing special favors given to this now mature industry and believe it is well past time for both conventional and non-conventional natural gas firms to exist on market principles, be responsible for cleaning up their messes, and control their leaking poisons.
The Evangelical Environmental Network does not stand against Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. We simply wish for the industry to operate safely, stop threatening our children’s health, clean up its messes, and stop seeking and receiving government handouts. For decades, natural gas, coal and other fossil fuels have received subsidies from our commonwealth, but the cost has been too steep. Our kids have paid the lion’s share of these costs with their lungs, hearts, minds, and even their lives. It’s time to defend our children and stop giving away Pennsylvania’s future.
It is simply immoral to keep offering handouts to an industry while our children suffer. We hope our General Assembly puts our kids first and rejects the Energize PA package.
Rev. Mitch Hescox is President/CEO, Evangelical Environmental Network.