This is the oral testimony of Patrice Tomcik, Senior National Field Manager for Moms Clean Air Force, on June 24, 2022, to the US House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis about cutting methane pollution:
Chair Castor, Ranking Member Graves, and members of the Select Committee, thank you for inviting me here today to speak about protecting our health and our climate by cutting methane pollution.
I am Patrice Tomcik, a Senior National Field Manager for Moms Clean Air Force, a national community of more than 1 million parents and caregivers united to protect our children’s health from air pollution and climate change. We envision a safe and equitable future where all children breathe clean air and live in a stable climate.
I am the mother of two boys living in Southwest Pennsylvania on top of the Marcellus Shale, where many oil and gas operations are located within communities like mine.
In the US, the oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane pollution contributing to climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and the main component of natural gas.
Children who live, learn, or play near oil and gas operations face a higher risk of exposure to the oil and gas industry’s harmful air pollution. Across our nation, more than 3.9 million children go to school within a half mile of oil and gas operations.
My children attend the Mars Area School District, where there are gas wells and a spider web network of gathering pipelines. The closest wells that have been fracked are approximately a half mile away from my children’s school campus, which puts the health of 3,200 students at risk.
Oil and gas operations emit climate-warming methane and also harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Both can contribute to ground-level ozone, or smog. Smog is a lung irritant that triggers asthma attacks and increases lung infections. Children have a higher respiratory rate than adults and thus can be exposed to higher rates of air pollution than adults. My boys play outdoor sports for school, and I am very concerned about what they are breathing into their still-developing lungs.
In addition, VOCs such as benzene are emitted by oil and gas operations. Benzene can affect lung development in children and increase the risk of immune system damage, neurological problems, and cancers such as childhood leukemia.
As a parent of a child who had leukemia, I know firsthand how critical clean air is to good health. In fact, it was my youngest son Carson’s cancer journey that motivated me to speak up about protecting children’s health long before the first gas well was fracked near the school. Yet every day I send my children to school, I fear for their health. This is especially true for Carson, who is at a higher risk of having cancer again. I am constantly reminded about how important my work is to protect children’s health from air pollution and climate change.
The families I work with would tell you that our climate crisis is a health crisis happening now. These families are experiencing climate change impacts when:
- Smoke from record-breaking wildfires can poison the air for millions across the West;
- Severe heat waves regularly threaten public health, preying on older adults, pregnant women, and low-income communities;
- The list goes on…
This is happening right now, and we are all impacted by it. And especially at risk are Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities that are disproportionately exposed to the effects from climate change and harmful pollution from oil and gas operations.
We need environmental justice now. We need climate justice now.
Quickly and significantly reducing methane pollution is one of the best levers we have to slow the rate of climate change now and help clean up the air to protect children’s health.
Our families need strong federal standards to create baseline methane protections, especially for states that have failed to enact meaningful oil and gas methane protections. This is why it is so important that EPA finalize a comprehensive methane rule to eliminate routine flaring and include frequent inspections for small wells with leak-prone equipment.
As regulations and policies are being considered, frontline and environmental justice communities must have an active role in decision-making. This stakeholder engagement is more important than ever because—as a new study by the Environmental Defense Fund reinforces—a disproportionate number of communities of color, people living below the poverty line, older adults, and young children live in counties near oil and gas wells.
As parents, we can’t control the air our children breathe. It is why we depend on you—our elected leaders—to do your jobs and protect our children. What we want is for our members of Congress to urgently pass legislation that invests in our clean energy future.