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Public Health "At the Mercy of Lawmakers" Over Methane Rule?

Terri Schumacher of Barnesville, Ohio, says her family is suffering from health problems due to nearby oil and gas development. (Scott Goldsmith/Earthjustice)
Terri Schumacher of Barnesville, Ohio, says her family is suffering from health problems due to nearby oil and gas development. (Scott Goldsmith/Earthjustice)
August 9, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Today is the deadline to weigh in on an Environmental Protection Agency proposal that opponents say would put the health of Ohioans at risk.

The EPA finalized rules in 2016 to reduce methane pollution released from new oil and gas facilities, but the agency's new director, Scott Pruitt, wants the rules delayed for two years.

Shortly after Terri Schumacher's family retired to a farm in eastern Ohio, she said, gas development began nearby. Now her family is experiencing a multitude of health problems including headaches, rashes and breathing difficulties.

"It's heart-wrenching," she said. "When you can't breathe, it's horrible. I've experienced a few episodes myself where I've had to go inside my home, I can't even be outside. We are just at the mercy of our lawmakers to try to regulate and oversee this development."

The standards require companies to take steps to reduce pollution, including identifying and fixing gas leaks. Pruitt has argued that the oil and gas industry did not have enough input on developing the new standards, which it claims are too expensive to implement.

An estimated 20,000 Ohioans live near new and updated oil and gas wells, and Schumacher said she believes regulations should keep pace with development. She said the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.

"It's gonna be cost effective if they can put these measures in and protect the environment, protect the people in this area from the dangers that could be coming down the road," she said. "I look and see what's happened in the past two years in our areas, and I shudder to think what could happen in another two years."

Schumacher was among those who testified at a recent public hearing in Washington, urging the agency to enforce the methane rule. She said now is the time to act because the health of communities is at risk.

"I have never been against the industry; I have always been supportive of it," she said. "I do think we need safety measures that are enacted. We have those; we just need to have them implemented. And so that's what I'm hoping and praying can be done."

The oil and gas industry is the largest emitter of methane, the second-greatest climate pollutant behind carbon dioxide in the United States.

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Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH