By: Celerah Hewes, Project Manager, Campaigns, Moms Clean Air Force
Date: January 12, 2023
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 grew up here, 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 manmade global warming we are experiencing.
I support the proposed EPA methane rules and urge the EPA to finalize the strongest and most comprehensive rules for oil and gas methane pollution. The improvements made since 2021 are a great step forward. The inclusion of routine monitoring at low producing wells that are responsible for half of all methane emissions, as well as improved leak detection and repair standards, will go far to protect the health of our children from the impacts of air pollution and climate change.
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. In April of 2022, New Mexico had 20 wildfires burning in 16 counties across the state. Half of the state was on fire. This included the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Wildfire, which was the largest and most destructive wildfire in New Mexico history. Even for those not living in evacuation areas, smoke from the fire impacted our air quality, keeping children and other vulnerable populations inside throughout the summer.
While climate impacts 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”. While the proposed Super-Emitter Response Program in this rule has the potential to help frontline communities, EPA must provide a clear pathway for them to participate and engage with this program. 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 has issued 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. The air in the San Juan and Permian Basins, where a majority of oil and gas production is occurring, covers multiple states and New Mexico’s rules will not protect all of the people living nearby. EPA can do more by ensuring methane rules to limit the pollution from flaring are as strong as New Mexico’s by requiring operators to capture associated gas and limit flaring only to instances where it is necessary for safety or maintenance reasons.
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 towards this target with a strong and comprehensive methane rule. 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 don’t want to waste this opportunity to make a difference for our children’s future.