This was written by Patrice Tomcik, Moms Clean Air Force project manager:
As a young girl growing up in India, Rajani Vaidyanathan witnessed extreme heat, drought, and famine ravaging parts of her country. She saw firsthand how the environment affected human health. Rajani is now a retired software engineer living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and finds her lessons from India have come full circle.
“I read about the bad air quality in Pittsburgh before my husband and I moved here in 2001,” Rajani says, “but this is where my husband chose to make his career. When my daughter [now age 15] was young, she was very prone to allergies and I know that children are more affected than adults by polluted air. I’m very concerned about how our health has been affected.”
The Greater Pittsburgh area consistently earns an “F” for air quality from the American Lung Association for high levels of particle pollution and ground level ozone, or smog. The Pittsburgh area also has high rates of cancers.
To add to the air pollution problems, a recent report found that Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry emits a whopping 1.1 million tons of methane – a powerful greenhouse gas – per year. That is 16 times higher than what is self-reported by the oil and gas industry to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). This methane pollution is double the climate change impact of tailpipe emissions from all the cars in Pennsylvania combined.
Rajani was surprised to learn that unconventional natural gas operations, often called fracking, had been permitted in her daughter’s suburban Pittsburgh school district. In the past two years, eight gas wells have been fracked. These are located about a mile away from the elementary school and daycare center, and half a mile from a park that hosts children’s summer camps and various youth sports. All are within a populated residential area.
The gas wells motivated Rajani to take action on oil and gas air pollution. “I teach my daughter to stand up for what you believe in and don’t wait for someone else to do something.”
Last month, Rajani delivered testimony at a public hearing on Pennsylvania’s draft oil and gas methane rule.
“In these times of Covid-19, which is a respiratory syndrome, it behooves us to pay even more attention to our air quality, which is at the bottom here in Allegheny county. I have metabolic syndrome, and my spouse has hypertension. So, we need you, the DEP, to help us be safe at these times, with better air pollution controls,” Rajani testified.
She went on to implore the DEP to close the loopholes in the proposed methane rule including eliminating the reduction in frequency of inspections if previous inspections do not reveal leaks. Rajani shared, “I am an electrical engineer, I can tell you surely … failure is random. We would like to predict, but we have not ever been able to. This is a preventive, past inspection and will not always speak to the future.” Rajani also pointed out the limitations of discluding low producing wells, pointing out “low-producing wells are responsible for more than half of the methane pollution from the oil and gas industry.”
Rajani was in good company at the hearing as the vast majority of testifiers supported the proposed methane rule and urged the DEP to strengthen it further to close loopholes. Having a strong and comprehensive methane rule can reduce methane pollution by up to 60%.
When asked why the methane rule is so important, Rajani passionately explained, “A strong methane regulation can clean up the air for children today and protect future generations from the worst impacts of climate change. I think about how extremely angry my grandchildren are going to be at me and my generation. We are already experiencing climate change effects fueled by greenhouse gas pollution like methane. If we stay on our current path we will be letting all future generations down.”
Because the Trump Administration is working to eliminate the federal methane rule, it is crucial that Governor Wolf step up with the most protective state methane rule to safeguard our family’s health and the climate.
Please join us in asking Governor Wolf and the DEP to close loopholes that would exempt half the state’s oil and gas methane pollution.