OPED: Methane pollution limits reflect conservative values

David Jenkins

Teddy Roosevelt was prescient when he said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value.”

The natural resources President Roosevelt was referring to — including our air, water and land — are critical to sustaining life on earth. Our duty as good stewards is to safeguard these assets for both present and future generations. And yet, as the threats from climate change loom ever larger, we are failing miserably in this duty.

The impacts are already being felt across our great nation. Unprecedented wildfires are ravaging the West, record flooding is wreaking havoc in parts of the East and South, and destructive algal blooms are breaking out from Lake Erie to the Florida coast.

In Pennsylvania, our state’s long-bountiful crop yields are depressed due to stifling summer heat, too much rain, and increasing losses from pests and disease.

None of this is normal. These are the long-predicted effects of climate change and, odds are, this extreme weather is only going to worsen.

A recent report by the Trump administration underscores the economic need to act. In its quadrennial National Climate Assessment this past month, researchers warn that if we fail to curtail climate change, “annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century — more than the current gross domestic product (GDP) of many U.S. states.”  

FILE - This Oct. 12, 2018 aerial file photo shows devastation from Hurricane Michael over Mexico Beach, Fla. A massive new federal report warns that extreme weather disasters, like California’s wildfires and 2018’s hurricanes, are worsening in the United States. The White House report quietly issued Friday, Nov. 23 also frequently contradicts President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

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More:Government climate report warns of worsening U.S. disasters

The time is long overdue to roll up our sleeves and take action if we want to safeguard our nation for the next generation. This is neither a new issue, nor a blue one. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and George H.W. Bush were all warning about the need to address climate change back in the late 1980s.

While Washington bickers and fiddles, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is stepping up. In early December, it rolled out a plan to reduce methane pollution from existing natural gas development. Methane is a climate change pollutant that is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial source of methane pollution, and since Pennsylvania is the second-largest gas-producing state in the nation, it can play an important role in safeguarding our climate.

According to a February 2018 report by Environmental Defense Fund, Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry emits 520,000 metric tons of methane annually — more than five times the amount the industry reports to the state. Since methane is an incredibly powerful climate pollutant in the short-term, Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry belches out the same amount of climate pollution as 11 coal-fired power plants would over the course of two decades.

However, we have cost-effective solutions. As the International Energy Agency has pointed out, technologies exist to reduce methane emissions by up to 50 percent at “no net cost” to industry. And because methane is the primary component of natural gas, reducing emissions means less waste — and more energy and revenue to communities.

Earlier this year, the DEP put controls in place to reduce methane pollution from new and modified natural gas infrastructure. Now, the agency will extend those controls to the state’s existing natural gas wells, pipelines and infrastructure.

As a conservative organization, we applaud environmental solutions that are smart, efficient, fiscally responsible and economically sound. DEP’s proposed rule is a good start, but it can and should be stronger in order to achieve the necessary methane reductions.

While the oil and gas industry often resists such change, corporate responsibility and good stewardship require it. After all, its waste and pollution affects every one of us.

Roosevelt had it right, as did other notable conservatives like Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. They always framed environmental stewardship as a moral duty, an obligation to leave a better world for our children. As the late President Bush pointed out, “The air and the Earth are riches we simply cannot squander.”

— David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship.