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The best thing since sliced bread?  Or wasted effort and only good for giving politicians political cover?  What should we make of the new Colorado air emissions rules

Some have claimed the rules will protect air quality and public health, while enabling responsible, economic energy development. 

Others have called the rules weak and providing no gain for the environment.

What will the rules do?  They will:

  • reduce the Volatile Organic Compound’s being leaked, which will reduce the amount of ozone being formed;
  • reduce methane and ethane emissions;
  • reduce toxic emissions, like benzene 

So what’s not to like about the rules?  Well, as we pointed out in our testimony, these rules will not do away with leaks of toxic emissions and methane.  Even with the rule, 30,000 people in the greater Denver metro area will still experience significant negative health impacts on days with ozone alerts.  This is because the rule will not result in absolute reductions in emissions, but will hold VOC emissions growth to 10% by 2018. 

As one of our partners in the rulemaking noted, “out-of-control ozone in Denver and on the West Slope” will remain an issue that highlights for everyone that the oil and gas industry needs to clean up its act in Colorado and throughout the American West.

Yet, the rules are also the first direct regulation of methane in the US. 

The inclusion of methane is of symbolic importance – precisely because no other state or federal agency has taken the step of including methane from oil and gas production in the regulatory framework in this country.  Sad, but true.

Now, it is up to us to take this symbolic first step and magnify and spread it.  Industry will always try to turn these changes to their benefit; they have done so for decades and we should expect nothing else now.  We have only ourselves to blame if we allow the industry, and their political supporters, to appropriate this small gain and use to shield themselves from larger changes.

For example, Colorado's governor may use the new air pollution rules for oil and gas production to help head off ballot initiatives that would ban or limit hydraulic fracturing in the state.  “It does take some of the pressure [for change] off “, said Gov. John Hickenlooper recently

So, to the extent that this rulemaking results in a reduction of human suffering, its a good thing.  Is it enough?  No.

As one medical doctor put it, in the long run, these simple regulatory steps are preventative medicine for the health of our air and communities. The human cost of oil-and-gas production pollution is real.

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