A New Year’s Resolution for Pa.: Go big on reducing methane emissions

With increasing extreme weather events plaguing Pennsylvania and the rest of the world, there’s no more time to waste

Gov. Tom Wolf tours the construction site of the Beaver County methane cracker plant. (Gov. Tom Wolf/Flickr)

By Joseph Otis Minott

This time of year, many of us make new year’s resolutions committing to do more to improve ourselves and the world around us. Many of those resolutions focus on curbing climate change.

We pledge to drive less, recycle more or eat sustainably – all in the name of slashing our carbon footprint. Here in the Commonwealth, Gov. Tom Wolf and policymakers should focus on resolutions that significantly reduce Pennsylvania’s methane footprint in the oil and gas sector (as well as its overall carbon footprint).

Most efforts to slow climate change are focused on carbon dioxide, its greatest driver. But the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published last year underscores the role other greenhouse gasses play in warming our planet – particularly methane. Methane is the second-largest cause of global warming with 87 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after its release.

It’s also the primary component of fossil gas, which is burned to generate electricity and is the primary heating fuel for about half of Pennsylvania’s households.

That means Pennsylvania, the second-largest gas producing state in the nation, has a vital role to play in curbing methane emissions. As the IPCC report concludes, reducing these emissions will have short- and long-term benefits for humanity, public health, and the environment.

With increasing extreme weather events plaguing Pennsylvania and the rest of the world, there’s no more time to waste. This must be the year Pennsylvania resolves to get serious about methane emissions. This must be the year Pennsylvania resolves to keep the reckless and dangerous gas industry in check.

Fortunately, there are clear, achievable steps policymakers can take in order to make meaningful progress on methane and reduce our state’s reliance on fossil gas. For starters, they can enhance efforts to plug the hundreds of thousands of orphan and abandoned oil and gas wells currently leaking methane into the air. The Biden administration has made over $4 billion in grant funding available to states to document and prioritize the plugging of these wells. Once received, that federal money must be spent down quickly, and Pennsylvania must have a concrete plan to do so wisely.

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It’s not just orphaned oil and gas operations causing unwanted emissions. Methane leaks from every part of the gas supply chain, and these leaks account for as much as 60% of the industry’s methane emissions. Curbing these leaks benefits everyone, as it would reduce emissions and public health risks while saving oil and gas operators money through recovered product.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a public comment period open right now on proposed rules to curb methane emissions from existing oil and gas sources nationwide.

Pennsylvania policymakers and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must weigh in to strengthen EPA’s proposal and ensure it fills in the gaps in Pennsylvania’s state oil and gas rules. For example, tens of thousands of Pennsylvania well sites are currently exempt from any common sense leak inspection requirements.

Enacting these changes must be the first step in policy makers’ larger resolution to stop bowing to oil and gas industry pressure and politicking.

According to a PennFuture report, the state’s energy industry has benefited from billions of dollars in subsidies, offering taxpayers and Pennsylvania communities little in return. Amid an ongoing pandemic and growing threats of natural disasters, these subsidies divert funds that could be far better spent offering real support to families and communities. What’s more, they’re based on false narratives around fossil gas, ignoring its negative impact on communities and public health.

What’s more, they delay our state’s promising and necessary transition to a more sustainable energy industry. State officials must resolve to serve as a positive force in this vital evolution toward renewable energy sources, rather than an obstacle.

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That means rejecting plans and proposals for new or enhanced fossil fuel infrastructure, including gas-fired plants, pipelines, and more. It means supporting renewable energy development that will bring good jobs and clean power to Pennsylvania.

Wolf and Pennsylvania lawmakers have an outsized opportunity to better the future of our state with their new year’s resolutions. But all residents and voters have a role in bringing about this progress in the year to come.

Resolve to call your elected officials, get involved, and demand a better future for the Commonwealth. It’s imperative this year and for countless years to come.

Joseph Otis Minott is the executive director and chief counsel of Clean Air Council. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. He writes from Philadelphia. 

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Capital-Star Guest Contributor
Capital-Star Guest Contributor

The Pennsylvania Capital-Star welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation on how politics and public policy affects the day-to-day lives of people across the commonwealth.