President Trump’s budget would put communities living near oil and gas at risk

The Trump Administration and EPA Administer Pruitt recently released a proposed budget targeting the health and well-being of all Americans. Alarmingly, by stripping funding for critical safeguards, this budget would be especially detrimental to the over 15 million Americans living near oil and gas industry operations across the country.

Communities depend on EPA for air monitoring

The oil and gas industry releases methane and toxic and smog-forming pollution like benzene, from drilling wells all across the country. This has unfortunately led to declining air quality in communities living near these operations, and reports of health impacts such as nose bleeds and headaches.

Americans in areas from rural Utah to urban Los Angeles and beyond rely on a network of air monitors to give them accurate and up to date information on air quality conditions. However 30 percent of the cost of these monitors is funded by an EPA program which would see significant reductions under President Trump’s budget. And less vital pollution data could sadly mean more asthma attacks and more school and work days lost.

The potentially drastic cuts to the nation’s air monitoring networks are compounded by EPA Administrator Pruitt’s efforts to delay and potentially weaken rules to reduce smog pollution, rules his allies in the oil and gas industry, including the American Petroleum Institute, have been tirelessly fighting.

Less enforcement would let polluters off the hook

The proposed budget also cuts EPA’s enforcement work – the cop on the public health beat – by 25 percent. A strong oversight program ensures polluters are held responsible for their pollution. Without strong enforcement programs, it is virtually impossible to protect communities by holding industry accountable for their operations.

Oil and gas companies that have illegally released pollution into our air, land, and water are responsible for a significant amount of the oversight actions taken by the EPA in recent years. This includes an almost $1 million fine to Sunoco for an oil pipeline spill in Ohio and a $2 million penalty from Slawson Exploration Company for illegally releasing hazardous and smog-forming pollution into the air in North Dakota.

Even before these budget cuts, there is evidence that EPA Administrator Pruitt has started relaxing and rolling back enforcement. The a New York Times report that Devon Energy is no longer planning to pay a six-figure settlement agreement for illegal pollution. However as demonstrated by a recent spill of oil sludge into an Ohio wetland, and a large methane leak detected in Eastern Utah, we need more oversight and enforcement to protect our communities, not less.

Axing incentives for companies to clean up their act

There are some oil and gas companies demonstrating leadership by implementing efficient practices to reduce pollution such as regularly looking for leaks, installing low-emitting equipment and more.

However, rather than rewarding these companies and trying to make these actions the norm, the proposed budget would entirely eliminate Natural Gas STAR, the leading voluntary pollution-reduction program in the industry. With this cut, companies across the oil and gas supply chain would lose an opportunity for transparency and accountability and have less motivation to innovate and clean up their acts.

Tying the hands of leading states

While the future of federal efforts to reduce pollution from the oil and gas industry is in question, states continue to be a bright spot. This includes Ohio, which recently finalized new permit requirements that will reduce methane and other air pollution from natural gas compressor stations; California, where the strongest methane rules in the country were adopted earlier this year; Wyoming, where the state moved to cut air pollution in key oil and gas drilling areas; and Colorado, which was the first state to enact comprehensive methane reforms.

However state efforts to protect clean air and clean water may also be in jeopardy if President Trump’s proposed budget cuts become reality, since states depend on significant resources and technical assistance from the federal government to do their job. For example, EPA funds one-third of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment’s budget and up to 60 percent of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s budget.

Location shouldn’t determine the air you breathe

Americans living in states that have not adopted measures to reduce oil and gas pollution depend on a strong EPA to protect them from the health consequences of increasing energy development. To these communities, budget cuts to pollution and enforcement programs would be an additional health burden, on top of efforts by the Trump Administration to delay crucial methane and clean air standards.

The Trump administration has touted the need for more American to make the nation "energy dominant." Unfortunately if their proposed budget comes to pass, it would pose increasing and unnecessary risk to the communities on the front lines this development. As leading states and companies have shown, however, we can protect the health and welfare of American communities while keeping a strong energy economy; we don’t need to pick.

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