by Ann Mesnikoff
It’s no secret that the Trump administration is hostile to protecting our air, our water, the climate and, it seems, even ensuring we collect revenues from oil and gas extracted from public lands rather than wasting resources. But April ended with a bang when it comes to the administration rolling back important protections for public health, our climate, and clean water.
Just last week ELPC weighed in rollbacks for rules to cut the waste of methane from oil and gas operations on public lands, guidelines to cut down on air pollution from the oil and gas industry, protections from toxic coal ash, and the Clean Power Plan.
Last Monday, ELPC submitted comments to the Department of Interior opposing the Bureau of Land Management’s repeal of a 2015 rule to limit the amount of methane, a potent greenhouse gas the oil and gas industry can vent or flare on public lands. Not only did this rule cut emissions of dangerous methane emissions, it would have actually raised the amount of royalties the industry pays to federal, state and tribal governments.
ELPC has long been involved in efforts to reduce venting and flaring in North Dakota, especially to protect public health and special places like the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. North Dakota alone accounts for 16% of oil production on federal public lands. Over the past decade North Dakota has had the highest volumes of flared natural gas in the United States raising concerns about impacts on public health and the climate. BLM estimates that over a 10 year period less natural would be produced and sold because of its repeal of the 2016 rule and $26.4 to 32.7 million less royalties collected.
You can check out our comments here and we greatly appreciated the support of 177 of our members who also told BLM to keep its methane waste prevention standards in place.
The Department of the Interior isn’t the only agency doing favors for the oil gas industry. On Monday, ELPC also joined a coalition partners opposing the US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to repeal common-sense and cost-effective measures states can implement to reduce toxic air pollution from the oil and gas industry in areas that do not meet health standards for smog, or ozone, pollution. EPA had issued these guidelines in 2016, but the Trump EPA, under Administrator Pruitt is determined to undermine public health at every turn.
Last Tuesday Tuesday and Thursday, we turned to opposing the EPA’s efforts to let coal fired power plants off the hook when it comes to polluting our water and our climate. The Midwest is not only home the Great Lakes. It is also home to a significant percentage of highly-polluting and aging coal plants. Illinois is second only to Texas in its consumption of coal for electricity; Indiana and Ohio are also in the top five. The continued prevalence of coal-fired electric generation means our residents bear the full range of harms from dirty generation, including toxic coal ash, pollution to air, climate, land, and water.
On Tuesday the focus was coal ash – the toxic residue left from burning coal in power plants across the country. Pruitt’s EPA proposed to weaken the first ever standards directly targeting coal ash, which power plants store in ponds. At a public hearing on Tuesday in Virginia, I testified opposing EPA’s rollback noting that the Midwest is home to more than 250 on-site coal ash impoundments, with forty-four in the Great Lakes watershed, either directly on one of the Lakes or on watercourses that flow into them. Specifically, these are impoundments in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
Coal ash contains arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury, radium, and other hazardous chemicals that present serious risks to human health, particularly children, and the environment. I was just one of nearly 70 voices that urged EPA to keep its 2015 standards in place and focus instead on protecting our lakes, rivers, and groundwater.
And on Thursday, it was EPA’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan! ELPC was joined by Alliance for the Great Lakes, Hoosier Environmental Council, Illinois Environmental Council, Iowa Environmental Council, Michigan Climate Action Network, Michigan Environmental Council, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and Ohio Environmental Council in opposing EPA’s repeal of these first ever climate pollution standards for dirty coal plants.
Our comments considered the threats of climate change to the Great Lakes and the region. But we also recognized the opportunities across the Midwest to invest in clean, renewable energy and create jobs. More than 500 of our members also sent in comments to EPA opposing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan.
Today, on the last day of April, we are submitting our written comments on EPA’s rollback of the Coal Ash Rule and get ready for EPA’s attack on Clean Car Standards – the biggest single step toward reducing dangerous climate pollution, saving consumers at the pump and cutting our dependence on oil and EPA’s attack on the use of sound science in its rulemaking process.
 Ohio State Energy Profile, U.S. Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/state/print.php?sid=OH (last visited Jan. 24, 2018).