Endeavor News - Opinions
By Joseph Otis Minott
March 25, 2017
Negative health and environmental impacts ofPennsylvania’s shale gas drilling boom are well documented. While the nation may be concerned about life-threatening pollution that Pennsylvania’s gas industry has created, it seems our own state legislators are not. In fact, they’re actively helping to make the problems worse.
The state legislature has repeatedly fought to keep the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) from implementing policies that could help safeguard Pennsylvania families from drinking toxic water and breathing dirty air.
The Senate Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy worked behind closed doors to add language to the budget bills that would prevent the DEP from enforcing a set of oil and gas regulations known as Chapter 78.
These regulations help protect Pennsylvania’s lakes, rivers and streams from drilling contamination and provide more transparency to families living in the gas fields. DEP spent nearly five years working on these protections, which garnered almost 30,000 public comments and were vetted at dozens of public meetings before being finalized.
It was a measure supported by thousands of families across the commonwealth, but our legislature voted to kill it.
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Governor Wolf took a stand for the environment and vetoed the amendment, but that hasn’t stopped our legislators. They tried yet again to pass a bill that would dismantle these important environmental and public health protections.
Ultimately, they forced the governor to strike a deal with them to gut half of the protections, but even that has not satisfied the General Assembly’s appetite for obstructing progress on health and the environment.
Now, they are looking to pass another pointless piece of legislation that could negatively impact Pennsylvania’s air quality by preventing the state from implementing policies that reduce the industry’s methane emissions.
Dozens of scientific studies, as well as EPA and DEP data, have shown that oil and gas activity leaks both massive amounts of methane, which exacerbates climate change; as well as volatile organic compounds, which increase ozone. Methane is responsible for about 25 percent of today’s climate change, and according to EPA, the oil and gas industry is the leading source of this harmful pollution.
The threats posed by increasing methane emissions spurred Governor Wolf to announce a plan in January to significantly cut this pollution. The plan would require drillers to implement the latest technologies to reduce their emissions, and is largely based on regulations established by the EPA.
If the state legislature persists in blocking these commonsense protections, it will be our most vulnerable communities that suffer most. The industry will continue to pump thousands of tons of harmful compounds into the air, and Pennsylvania families will continue to breathe it.
The current group of legislators is the worst in Pennsylvania’s recent history in terms of protecting public health and the environment. Enough is enough. It’s time for our legislature to stop putting our families in harm’s way.
Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., is executive director and chief counsel of the Clean Air Council. He served on the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee and the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee.