Tough methane regulations protect planet, people

September 14, 2018 GMT

It’s impossible to know just how much damage will be done to the land, water and air over the next few years, all in the name of deregulation, improving the business climate or creating jobs. But make no mistake, damage is being done.

Just this week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it is proposing a significant rollback of the methane rules designed during the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas production. These rules, as we have written before, are good for the people who have to breathe the air and good for the planet. What’s more, the rules could be good for industry, which could make money by capturing the methane.

In New Mexico alone, it is believed the oil and gas industry loses 570,000 tons of methane annually, a loss of millions of dollars each year. Money is not all that matters. Methane, when it is leaked or vented, releases dangerous carcinogens and compounds into the air. The resulting smog and air pollution leads to illness, including asthma and cancer. It also helps warm the planet.


Considering that half of the nation’s methane waste over the past four years on federal and tribal lands originates in New Mexico, it is clear that this issue matters to us. That’s especially true in the Four Corners area, which sits under a methane hot spot big enough to be visible from space.

New Mexicans know that methane pollution is bad for people. When the EPA under President Barack Obama formulated the rule, some 27,000 New Mexicans commented in favor of stopping pollution and oil and gas waste. With the weakened standards, recently published in the Federal Register, New Mexicans will have the opportunity to weigh in once more, with the possibility of a public hearing in Denver as well.

President Donald Trump made it clear first as a candidate and now as chief executive that he supports the energy business to the detriment of nearly all else. His agencies, both the EPA and the Interior Department, have tried to roll back the tougher methane rules. When courts blocked the moves because of lawsuits, officials did not give up. That’s why they are proposing weaker rules. (The new proposal from the Interior Department is expected soon.)

Reducing methane pollution is a key to decreasing the gases that cause climate change, with these regulations part of the United States commitment to fighting global warming. But the United States isn’t keeping its word from one administration to the other. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is gathering at the Global Climate Action Summit.

In light of poor national leadership and dependence on unscientific policy, New Mexico should take tougher action closer to home — at the state level. It’s working in Colorado, where regulations to reduce methane pollution already are in place.

Since 2015, the Associated Press reports, energy companies in Colorado have found and fixed some 73,000 methane leaks, as required under an oil field inspection program. Leaks fell by 52 percent, going from more than 36,000 in 2015 to about 17,250 in 2017. If Colorado can reduce methane pollution, so must New Mexico. We apparently cannot rely on commonsense federal oversight any more.

Speak up against Trump’s proposed rollback of regulations designed to keep the planet safe. Speak out, too, against leaders who deny global warming and fail to act to ensure the future of the planet. Support sensible state regulations.

Time is running out.