Governor-elect Jared Polis won on a platform of 100 percent renewable energy because Coloradans understand our sustainability as a state, country and world is contingent upon protecting our environment and people. Unfortunately, the Trump administration and oil and gas industry don’t show the same regard.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas stemming from oil and gas production that, unregulated, significantly contributes to degraded air quality and public health and exacerbates the far-reaching repercussions of climate warming. The 2016 EPA and Bureau of Land Management methane rules required oil and gas companies operating on public lands to implement cost-effective, proven technologies that prevent leaking, venting and flaring of these harmful emissions into the environment. This process further ensures taxpayer resources are properly managed — saving more than $1 billion in wasted natural gas.
Seemingly, these commonsense regulations should be supported by an administration whose responsibility it is to prioritize the interests of the American people. Yet, since taking office, the Trump administration has unabashedly shown deference to the oil and gas industry by removing regulations deemed “burdensome” to their profits.
Despite years of failed legal challenges, being upheld by Congress and millions of Americans opposing said rollbacks, the 2016 BLM methane rule was gutted this fall, carrying none of its former protections for the American people. And the EPA rule re-write is showing itself to be the same: Oil and gas companies have complained it’s too financially burdensome to account for their impact on public health and safety.
They’ve patted themselves on the back by making public pledges to reduce their emissions, but few have defended the need for federal regulations. Instead, they’ve been quick to cite relatively minor profit losses as a means to disregard their obligation to Americans by operating on public lands with public resources.
I recently testified at the EPA hearing to hold this administration accountable for the destructive impacts I’ve witnessed from unregulated methane emissions. Systemic inequities have resulted in more than 1.8 million Latinos living within a half mile of existing oil and gas facilities, and as this administration dramatically expands extraction from public lands, these numbers will only rise.
The disproportionate exposure to high levels of pollution means more than half of the country’s Latino population lives in areas that do not meet federal air quality standards and subsequently are burdened with health and economic hardships this administration and these companies seem quick to ignore when pushing for relaxed restrictions.
Additionally, as a child development specialist, I know that children are more vulnerable than adults to the negative effects of environmental toxins, given their developing physiology. Increasing evidence suggests that access to nature provides children with a myriad of cognitive, emotional and physical benefits, such as increased ability to concentrate, improved academic performance, reduced stress and aggression levels and reduced risk of obesity.
If children cannot go outside due to smog and air pollution — particularly Latino children who are disproportionately exposed to these pollutants — it can have serious cognitive consequences and hinder development of an environmentally conscious identity, which serves as the foundation for STEM education.
In Colorado, Latinos make up nearly a quarter of the state’s population. And in a state that has recently flexed its oil and gas production power, what will that mean for the future health of our children and security of our communities?
Thankfully, our state-based methane rule ensures some safeguards from self-interested companies, but as we know, air doesn’t stop at state boundaries. We must have corresponding federal rules that ensure the well-being of all Americans, equitably. We must prioritize the health of our people and environment above industry profits; it is the only way we will move forward.
The online public comment period for the EPA methane rule closes on Dec. 17.
Cristal Cisneros has a master’s degree in educational psychology and child development and is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado-Denver.
By: Cristal Cisneros