American Lung Association

Flannery: Unhealthy air underlines need for more action to cut emissions

Mar 17, 2017 Updated Mar 19, 2017, Casper Star Tribune

 Wyoming has worked hard to improve air quality in its Upper Green River Basin since an oil and gas boom led to smog levels that at times gave this rural area pollution levels that matched Los Angeles.

Gov. Mead’s administration has worked to secure nationally leading rules in the basin that have helped limit emissions and improve quality of life for those living near oil and gas facilities.

But this winter, after more than five years without an exceedance, spiking smog levels are back, leading to a dozen ozone action days in the Pinedale area.

These are days when the air quality is forecast to reach unhealthy levels, leading local oil and gas operators to launch contingency plans to reduce emissions and local residents to ask for more action to protect their air. It underlines the need for continued vigilance from state and federal policy makers to further cut emissions and continue to protect the health of local residents.

Improving Wyoming’s state rules will help, and in that regard we are pleased that the state Department of Environmental Quality has already begun to collect information on a phase two approach to build on the Mead administration’s earlier efforts and continue to reduce emissions.

In comments filed with DEQ, the American Lung Association advocated for a number of sensible approaches to reduce emissions including requiring leak inspections on all oil and gas wells. These latest pollution readings add urgency to the state’s long planned phase two effort.

And while Wyoming deserves credit for continuing to be proactive on this issue, unfortunately its senators in Washington, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, are running in the opposite direction, leading an effort to roll back national rules that could help stop pollution, reduce gas waste and clean up Pinedale’s air.

These senators should consider the unhealthy air their constituents are breathing before they vote to abolish these protections – protections that recent polling found 87 percent of voters in Wyoming support.

Similarly, a substantial majority of Americans support upholding more protective limits on smog pollution, according to separate poll results that the American Lung Association recently released.

The Bureau of Land Management methane waste rule that these senators oppose would help further reduce Pinedale’s pollution since it targets gas leaks on federal lands, where the majority of production in the UGRB takes place. The BLM rule is based on Wyoming’s state rules in the UGRB, but it drives for further emissions reductions in a few key areas including requiring regular leak inspections on all oil and gas wells, even smaller sites that are currently exempted from Wyoming’s state rule. That is because while some wells may be smaller in terms of production, they can still be large sources of hydrocarbon pollution.

And further afield, as Wyoming oil and gas development bounces back from the recent downturn, we continue to believe stronger statewide requirements for new and existing wells, including frequent leak inspections, remain in order to prevent flare ups of unhealthy pollution levels elsewhere in the Cowboy State.

Pinedale’s recent unhealthy pollution readings dictate that a hand in glove approach that includes smart federal and state protections are needed to continue to clean up the air locally and across Wyoming. ALA will continue to work in the months ahead to defend the BLM rule and other public health protections, to improve state rules in the UGRB and to support statewide rules that extend smart pollution controls across the Wyoming. Efforts to reduce these emissions reduce waste, protect the health of local communities and level the playing field for industry – sensible efforts that the vast majority of Wyoming voters, and their elected representatives, can and should support.

 Ronni Flannery is healthy air director for the American Lung Association in Wyoming.