By: Celerah Hewes, Project Manager, Moms Clean Air Force
Date: November 30, 2021
About: Environmental Protection Agency Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2021-0317
To: Environmental Protection Agency
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Celerah Hewes, and I am a Project Manager for Moms Clean Air Force living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was born here, and when I decided to have a family, New Mexico was the place I wanted to raise my child. But today I am deeply concerned that the home my daughter will grow up in will be very different due to the public health and climate impacts we are experiencing. Climate impacts are made worse by methane, a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant that is fueling the climate crisis and is responsible for 25% of the man-made global warming we are experiencing.
I am here today to support the proposed EPA methane rules and urge the EPA to finalize the strongest and most comprehensive rules to protect children’s health from all sources of oil and gas methane pollution, including small wells and routine flaring.
Climate change is greatly impacting New Mexico and the Southwest with drought and longer, more intense wildfire seasons, and increased heat waves that threaten the health of New Mexico families. Last year, I testified on the need to cut methane and mentioned the rising heat and climate impacts, including wildfires that were causing air pollution from fires over 400 miles away. Again this past summer, wildfires burning in Arizona put Albuquerque on a public health alert as smoke and particulates traveled hundreds of miles. On her first day of summer camp, my eight-year-old daughter suffered from heat stroke as we saw the beginning of a heat wave hitting the Southwest. On the third day, I had to explain that she could not play outside because the air was dirty from smoke and particulate matter caused by wildfires far away. While summer used to be a time to be active and play outside, our children now have to spend large portions of the summer inside because the air outside is dangerous to breathe. We have to make a change now, before this becomes the new normal.
While climate impacts like heat and drought are of concern to residents in our most populated areas, they are also greatly affecting communities in oil and gas regions. The areas with the most oil and gas operations in New Mexico are also primarily minority communities, such as the Navajo nation. Indigenous and Latino communities in New Mexico are disproportionately exposed to dirty air, including harmful pollution from oil and gas operations, because of where they live, learn, work, and play. San Juan County is a perfect example. According to analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund, "nearly 9,000 children under the age of five and over 78% of young kids in San Juan County live within one mile of an active oil or gas well." Prioritizing environmental justice and frontline communities is imperative as they have historically shouldered an outsize burden from the impacts of air pollution and the climate crisis.
Federal regulations are extremely important, because even as New Mexico recently issued rules to reduce methane flaring, and will soon issue a state rule curbing methane pollution, the reality is that we are impacted by methane pollution that does not respect state boundaries. It is in the air, the wind, and it spreads. This is evident from the methane cloud over the San Juan Basin, which covers four states (NM, CO, UT, AZ) and can be seen from space. Cutting methane pollution is one of the fastest ways we can reduce the impacts of climate change and also improve air quality and public health.
We know that without federal action, methane pollution from the oil and gas industry will continue to increase. The Biden EPA can set us on the path toward this target with a strong and comprehensive methane rule. We don’t want to waste this opportunity to make a difference for our children’s future. Thank you.