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Racing to the Bottom on Methane Emissions?

DEP estimates the natural gas industry emitted 115,000 tons of methane in Pennsylvania in 2014.  (Ruhrfisch/Wikimedia Commons)
DEP estimates the natural gas industry emitted 115,000 tons of methane in Pennsylvania in 2014. (Ruhrfisch/Wikimedia Commons)
February 13, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Clean air advocates are concerned that a bill in the state Senate would undermine efforts to control a major contributor to climate change.

Over a 20-year time period, methane, the main component of natural gas, is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

And Pennsylvania puts a lot of methane into the atmosphere – 115,000 tons in 2014 alone, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

SB 175 would prevent the DEP from imposing any regulations on emissions of methane that are more restrictive than federal regulations.

But according to Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, federal regulations are intended to be the floor, not the ceiling.

"The very way that the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are written is to provide states the opportunity to go beyond the minimum that EPA requires," he points out.

Pennsylvania is the second biggest producer of natural gas, and sponsors of the bill say imposing additional restrictions on methane emissions would put the state at a competitive disadvantage.

But Minott contends that the legislature has a responsibility to protect the health and welfare of the people of the state.

"So it should not look to another entity like EPA and say whatever EPA does is as much as we're going to do," he states.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a plan to sharply reduce methane emissions using measures already in use by some gas producers, or required in other gas producing states.

And Minott points out that current EPA regulations and the governor's proposals only apply to new and refurbished gas facilities.

"What still needs to be done is how to regulate the infrastructure that's already emitting a lot of pollution and harming local communities and downwind communities," he states.

SB 175 has been referred to the Senate's Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA