Advisory committee approves controversial emissions regulation offered by Wolf administration

    Marcellus shale gas-drilling site along PA Route 87, Lycoming County. Source: Creative Commons.

    A state advisory committee voted Thursday to advance a new regulation on Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry proposed by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration, despite concerns among environmental groups that it does not do enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

    Andrew Williams, who testified on the proposal on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund, confirmed the vote by an advisory committee within the state Department of Environmental Protection.

    The matter now goes to the state’s Environmental Quality Board, whose approval can initiate the months-long process of advancing the rule into state law.

    The proposed rule would regulate volatile organic compounds, emissions that can form smog and harm human respiratory systems. Environmental groups, however, say the rule should be expanded to target methane — a component of natural gas that contributes to climate change.

    An adviser to Wolf told the Associated Press that regulating volatile organic compounds will reduce “a significant amount” of methane.

    But the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that only 21 percent of methane will be captured under the proposed rule, thanks to a clause that exempts most conventional gas wells from some regulatory requirements.

    Robert Routh, an attorney for the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, told the AP, “it is a big missed opportunity if they do not add methane and expand the scope of the rule.”

    If the Environmental Quality Board approves the rule, it would be subject to a public comment period and another round of consideration by advisory boards, administrative offices, and regulatory boards before it’s finally adopted, according to a DEP overview of the process.

    Williams hopes that Wolf’s administration will remove the exemption for conventional wells, and add direct targets on methane, before the rule is finalized.

    “Governor Wolf and the DEP really have taken a great step forward to regulate existing sources of oil and gas pollution… but there are some really key areas where this needs to be expanded,” Williams said. “The governor has robust greenhouse gas emissions goals, and this is one really big area where he can achieve some of them. But by not focusing on the actual greenhouse gas, it’s hard to wrack up enough emissions to make it meaningful in regards to those commitments.”

    Pennsylvania is the second-leading natural gas state producing in the nation. But in a statement Thursday, the Environmental Defense Fund said the regulation Wolf is proposing would be “the least protective methane rule in the country.”

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