We need to stop EPA’s ‘COVID made me do it’ defense for polluters | Opinion

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In one of the most unconscionable public health decisions to date, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is openly admitting it will turn a blind eye to industry polluters who claim COVID19 “made them pollute.”

Oil and gas companies will now profit from being able to easily release dangerous toxins into our atmosphere at the expense of our wellbeing.

Deregulation of pollution standards is what will cause Pennsylvania to yet again experience one of the hottest summers on record according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Not only are temperatures rising but so are extreme weather conditions.

Just a few weeks ago, a powerful storm with 80 to 90 mile per-hour winds knocked out trees, power lines, and roofs in the surrounding Philadelphia area. Extreme storms are not typical to Pennsylvania’s climate, but due to climate change and the EPA’s methane roll backs they will become a much more common occurrence.

The EPA, once an agency of conservation and public health protection, has been taken over by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler.

Wheeler picked up right where his predecessor, now disgraced Administrator Scott Pruitt, left off and continued an agenda of promoting industry profits over public health.

Andrew Wheeler and the EPA fully understand that methane emissions reduce air quality and cause more heat and pollutants to be trapped in our atmosphere.

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A change in the atmosphere has drastic effects for all of us. Despite these known facts, the EPA continues to remove protections that have successfully reduced the amount of methane leaks from oil and gas infrastructure.

These rollbacks are a direct attack on the successful 2015 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for oil and gas facilities set by Obama. The roll backs allow oil and gas companies to release more methane without penalization and increase their profits.

Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry create the perfect atmospheric conditions for deadly temperatures and extreme weather. Methane is a driving force behind climate change and is responsible for 25% of the effects of climate change we see today.

This potent greenhouse gas is 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere.

Penn State University researchers recently concluded that, compared to the year 2000, average temperature will rise by 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit between 2040 and 2070.

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Pennsylvania is the second largest gas producing state behind Texas, and our methane emissions affect our cities and the millions of people who live down wind. Every ton of leaked gas is another detriment to public health and the air we breathe.

As Americans become much more in tune to how our environment directly relates to our ability to fight off disease, we need a fully funded and EPA motivated by public health to protect the environment.

Yet President Donald Trump wants to roll back limitations on the use of powerful greenhouse gas during a worldwide pandemic. We must not sit quietly while half a million tons of methane and other pollutants, some of which are carcinogens like benzene, leak from ever expanding oil and gas operations.

The EPA admits that their own roll backs will result in hundreds of thousands more tons of leaked methane across the US. Even worse, now the EPA is openly saying they will not go after polluters who claim COVID-19 “made them do it.”

This argument is disingenuous, dangerous, and we shouldn’t be expected to let this go unnoticed. Children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems already suffer the most from prolonged exposure to methane emissions.

The pandemic is making America take a look at how we can preserve life and keep people healthy, so why is the EPA working overtime to roll back crucial methane rules that protect the health of our most vulnerable residents? Many residents depend on public spaces like libraries and community centers for air conditioning during extreme heat events in urban areas.

Current social distancing requirements may not allow for this to happen, creating a greater concern for residents during the extreme heat events caused by climate change during the current pandemic. We should not have to live in a future where our lives are valued less than the oil and gas companies who release more methane and pollutants simply for their own profits.

We are at a crucial point in Earth’s history where if we do not drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we emit we will reach an irreversible climate tipping point. Now is the time to strengthen and enforce the methane rules, not roll them back.

Enola Hihi is a resident of Phoenixville, Pa., with a Bachelor’s degree in environmental and urban studies from McGill University. She is currently an intern at the Clean Air Council in Philadelphia.