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Harrisburg, PA – On Tuesday, March 21st Pennsylvania residents, environmental organizations, and health professionals held a press conference to express support for Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal to reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas operations.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released important measures in January to address methane pollution from new oil and gas operations. March 22nd would have marked the public comment period deadline for the measures. Yet the industry’s extensive and aggressive lobbying of state legislators very likely prompted DEP to extend the comment period to June 5th.

Today, attendees all emphasized the urgent need for DEP’s proposed standards for new sources, and called on DEP to quickly develop rules to cover existing sources of natural gas that are already polluting the air. Residents brought air samples from their own neighborhoods and released them into the air outside of the Capitol, to bring attention to their real concerns about air pollution from the gas industry.

“While we applaud the work DEP has done to address pollution from new sources of the oil and gas industry, each day they don’t develop safeguards limiting air pollution from existing facilities is another day that shalefield residents are forced to breathe unhealthy air,” said Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director with Clean Air Council.

“Oil and gas emissions can create more smog, which puts families across the state at increased risk of respiratory and heart problems,” said Dr. Alan Peterson, Emeritus Director of Environmental and Community Medicine of Lancaster General Health, and retired Family Physician at Walter L. Aument Family Health Center. “Last year, pollution from the oil and gas industry caused over 30,000 asthma attacks in Pennsylvania children. There are enormous health benefits to adopting the new pollution safeguards.”

“This event underscores the economic benefits of the proposed permits,” said Khari Mosley, Pennsylvania Regional Program Manager with Blue Green Alliance. “Pennsylvania is currently home to more than 30 technology, service, and manufacturing companies that specialize in methane mitigation and provide good-paying jobs. Requiring companies to reduce methane leakage will help strengthen local economies and enhance a developing job market.”   

“We recommit ourselves to being vocal about our concerns,” said Lois Bjornson, a resident of Washington County, PA. “[We recommit ourselves] to holding our elected officials accountable, to showing up in Harrisburg and across the state and not backing down until they step up to protect residents’ health.”

“The oil and gas industry insists on freely releasing methane and other pollutants into the air regardless of the consequences, but thinks it's fine to handcuff the authority of DEP, a public agency, to protect the public,” said Nadia Steinzor, Eastern Program Coordinator, Earthworks. “There's no getting around the fact that methane emissions are a health hazard, a threat to a changing climate, and waste of a valuable energy resource.”

Since the measures were introduced, the General Assembly has been working to undermine them. Legislation (SB 175) is a bill that would prevent Pennsylvania from adopting methane standards that are more stringent than the federal government’s. Participants strongly criticized the bill and its author Senator Guy Reschenthaler and the co-sponsors.

“Senator Reschenthaler and those legislators supporting SB 175 demonstrate that they’re more interested in protecting corporate polluters’ profits than protecting the public interest,” said Steve Hvozdovich, Pennsylvania Campaigns Director, Clean Water Action. “As the Trump administration moves to scale back environmental protections, it’s more important than ever that we ensure our state has the ability to safeguard Pennsylvanians.”

Residents and advocates have collected over 1,000 public comments from across Pennsylvania supporting DEP’s standards. Advocates say that these comments are just an initial wave of support and expect a substantial amount of additional comments will be submitted by the new June deadline.

For more information about methane pollution and Governor Tom Wolf’s proposed standards, visit CleanAirPA.org. 

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