Here's a conservative argument for containing methane emissions: David Jenkins

Harrisburg Patriot News

By David Jenkins - Opinion

July 1, 2017

One thing that Pennsylvanians of any political stripe should agree on is that waste is a bad thing. Whether we are talking about money, time, or energy, the prudent--and conservative--approach is always to minimize waste.

This is why Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) were right to launch a concerted strategy last year to reduce natural gas waste and the resulting methane emissions.

The plan will help reduce leaks and emissions from natural gas well sites, processing facilities, compressor stations and along pipelines.

These leaks harm public health as they waste a valuable natural resource and release pollutants into our air.

If successful, Wolf's plan would show that Pennsylvania is a truly a leader in waste reduction by implementing responsible oil and gas practices. 

Unfortunately, that is a big if right now. 

The oil and gas industry has stepped up its political efforts to slow or block the state plan, just as its methane emissions are up a whopping 28 percent.

In one such effort, state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Allegheny, is trying to tie the hands of Pennsylvania with legislation barring Pennsylvania from adopting standards stronger than whatever was decided in Washington.

For a conservative, it makes no sense to cede state control and let the federal government be the final say on whether or not we have clean air.

Such legislation would only guarantee more wasteful leaking, venting, and flaring of methane--essentially the natural gas itself--that is the byproduct of leaky natural gas infrastructure.

These practices result in more bad air quality days, and lead to valuable energy and potential profits being transformed into unhealthy pollution.

Pennsylvania companies waste more than $20 million worth of natural gas every year, enough gas to supply 90,000 homes.

It is a "lose-lose" for consumers who, as a result, face higher energy costs, see fewer industry revenues returning to communities, and deal with worsening air quality.

No Pennsylvanian is immune from the negative impacts of this industry waste.

And yet, the Marcellus Shale Coalition - an industry trade group - has the audacity to go on record as saying that there is no environmental benefit to cutting methane emissions.

It is unfortunate that some trade associations continue to resist responsible standards that cut methane waste.

Another bill in the Pennsylvania Legislature, arguably more concerning, is a proposal (SB561) sponsored by Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin, which states that if the cost to implement any rule is over $1 million, the legislature must approve it.

Absent equal regard to a rule's financial benefits to consumers and society, DiSanto's bill is nothing but a special interest giveaway and faced strong bipartisan opposition in the Senate.  

Rather than acquiesce to one special interest group, Gov. Wolf should bring willing stakeholders to the table and ensure that his plan is on track and moving forward. The specter of a few long lobbyist faces in Harrisburg will be quickly erased by a grateful public.

If Wolf wants the Commonwealth to be a national leader in reducing methane waste, then he must redouble his commitment to his constituents.

Republican and Democratic governors alike in other states have stepped up to the plate, and Pennsylvania can do the same.

Colorado enacted a suite of rules in 2014 to reduce methane waste. Since then, natural gas production has increased while the number of leaks found dropped by 75 percent in the state's most developed oil and gas field. 

Other states such as Ohio and Wyoming have also adopted strategies to cut methane waste and air pollution.

All these states are moving forward because cost effective technologies to capture this lost gas exist today. Some of these technologies are homegrown at institutions including Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, and dozens of companies spread over 46 states create a robust methane mitigation sector.

We can experience all of the economic benefits of natural gas development while ensuring that industry prevents waste and safeguards the environment we all depend on.

There is no valid excuse for wasting Pennsylvania energy, especially not at the expense of its citizens and communities.

The American ethic of conservation is one both major parties have long championed--especially here in Pennsylvania, the home of great conservation icons like the late Congressman John Saylor.

Saylor understood that responsible stewardship of our natural resources is a core, traditionally conservative, value. 

With the federal government rolling back sensible methane standards to appease special interests, it is incumbent on Governor Wolf to be a good and courageous steward.

We need him to protect us, and our families, by honoring his commitment to reduce methane waste.

David Jenkins is the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national nonprofit organization with members in Pennsylvania.

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