Commemorate the Clean Air Act by living up to its protections
This coming Monday, December 17 marks the 55th anniversary of the Clean Air Act. Coincidentally, it is also the end of the public comment period for the Trump administration’s proposal to undermine that act and eviscerate Environmental Protection Agency safeguards to reduce methane and associated toxic air pollution from oil and gas production.
The anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which passed the House of Representatives unanimously in 1963, should be a celebration of our united efforts to protect the greater good. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s rollback of public health and climate protections turns the anniversary into another example of the abuse of public office for special interests, at our expense.
Despite what some want you to think, working together to protect public health and the environment is not a relic of the past. Just four years ago, Colorado state government worked together with oil and gas companies to protect Colorado’s air and climate. We became the first state in the nation to enact rules to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas production and served as a national model for methane standards that the Obama administration adopted at the EPA.
Colorado’s — and the federal government’s — methane safeguards are important because methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Methane is responsible for a quarter of the climate change impacts we are experiencing now. And when oil and gas operations release methane, as they do throughout production, they also emit hazardous volatile organic compounds such as benzene, a carcinogen. There are more than 50,000 active oil and gas operations in Colorado and 1.3 million nationwide.
Thanks to Colorado’s methane safeguards, we live where the Trump administration’s attack on clean air won’t impact us as directly as it will for those living in other regions that also produce oil and gas. But more methane emissions would still affect us. What happens to our neighbors affects us too, and no single state rule can protect us from the consequences of climate change.
But we shouldn’t just consider immediate effects. This rollback is just one part of a larger effort by the Trump administration to undermine or eliminate all federal initiatives to address climate change. They have announced their intention to roll back other EPA safeguards to cut methane pollution from oil and gas production. This September the Trump administration repealed an Interior Department rule that prevented methane waste from oil and gas production on public lands. More than 600,000 public comments were submitted, and 99.8 percent opposed repeal. And then there is President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement — making us the only country in the world to do so — or his gutting of the Clean Power Plan.
This coming year, I will become the chair of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on the Energy and Commerce Committee, with the authority to look into these dangerous actions by the Trump administration. We will follow the facts to get a better understanding of which officials within the administration were pushing to undermine protections, the potential influence of special interests, and whether important steps or points of view were ignored along the way. I will make sure that the American people know what we uncover and what we can do to reverse these actions.
In the meantime, every American needs the methane pollution safeguards that Colorado worked hard to put in place. Our standards have been on the books for years, and the oil and gas industry continues to operate in Colorado. One of the world’s largest oil companies, just moved its onshore oil and gas drilling headquarters to Denver and even cited Colorado’s environmental ethic as one of the reasons Denver was such a good place to be headquartered.
Each one of us must speak out in opposition to this dangerous effort by the Trump administration to weaken necessary methane pollution protections. I encourage the companies who had a seat at the table when Colorado crafted our rules and who have made pledges to cut methane to speak up as well.