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Methane Standards: A Step Forward In Climate Fight

methane blog

Photo: Deacon MacMillan/Creative Commons

The Obama Administration took another step forward in addressing climate change last week with the release of proposed standards to limit methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. On the heels of the Clean Power Plan, it’s more good news for people and the planet, and bad news for those pushing the Big Polluter Agenda.

What Is Methane?

What is methane pollution? It’s a dangerous climate change gas that traps 80 times as much heat on our planet over a 20-year period compared to carbon dioxide, which is emitted by burning coal. Big Polluters are carelessly leaking and venting millions of tons of methane pollution and toxic chemicals into the air from oil and gas drilling operations with virtually no oversight. These industrial leaks are like an invisible oil spill happening every day. Last year, the oil and gas industry sent enough gas into the atmosphere to heat nearly 6 million American homes. You can literally see the leaks in the video below from Earthworks. Big Polluters have been getting away with this wasteful and harmful pollution problem — until now.

A Health Issue

Methane’s contribution to climate change would be reason enough to limit this pollution. What’s more, methane pollution also contributes to other health concerns. Methane and other pollution from the oil and gas industry react in the air to form ozone smog, which triggers asthma attacks especially in children. Leaking oil and gas equipment also produces toxic gases that can cause serious health problems, including cancer. Workers and neighbors are often most at risk.

Solutions Exist

The good news is that technology to solve this problem is widely and easily available and affordable. The oil and gas industry would only need to spend one percent of its revenue this year on safeguards to reduce this pollution, protect Americans’ health, and slow climate change. And since methane that isn’t wasted can be sold for profit — many of those measures quickly pay for themselves.

The Obama administration should be commended for taking another step to act on climate change. But I know our work is far from over. For one thing, I know it won’t be long before the Dirty Air Villains in Congress start pushing legislation and loopholes to allow this pollution to continue unabated. We’ll be counting on our Clean Air Heroes to fight for our air and our climate. Second, these standards only cover new facilities. We’ll be looking to our leaders in Washington (and the next occupant of the White House) to finish the job and limit pollution at existing oil and gas sites, which are responsible for the vast majority of the industry’s methane pollution.

But for now, this important step forward is reason enough to celebrate.

Antonia Herzog is a Senior Advisor on Climate and Clean Air for the NRDC Action Fund.

Six Lessons Learned about the Politics of Climate Change

Over the past few weeks, every Democratic candidate running for president has discussed climate change in a major speech and made climate solutions a central part of their platform. Republican candidates continue to use stock phrases like “I’m not a scientist,” but at least they are talking about climate change.

We’ve come a long way.

When I started working at the NRDC Action Fund in 2004, climate change barely registered on the political landscape. I was coming off of Capitol Hill and most of my time was spent on parks and water issues, which we were just starting to think of in terms of climate change.  Most voters were concerned about the war in Iraq, No Child Left Behind, and the latest episode of Desperate Housewives—it was before streaming, after all. Global warming, as we called it then, was the focus of policy wonks and researchers and few others.

Then something shifted: climate change started hitting home in painful and costly ways. Nine out of the 10 hottest years ever occurred since 2002. We witnessed the destructive power of storms like Katrina and Sandy and became accustomed to using the words “record-breaking” when we talk about everything from snowfalls to wildfires. People’s lives were turned upside down by climate impacts, and Americans began calling on leaders to do something about it.

Now that I have decided to leave the NRDC Action Fund to return to my roots to head up the Ohio Environmental Council and its Action Fund, I can’t help but reflect on the progress made by my amazing NRDC colleagues and the larger environmental movement.

Not only have we helped secure policies to limit carbon pollution from power plants and cut climate change pollution from new cars in half by 2025—saving drivers $80 billion a year at the pump, but we have also helped put climate change on the campaign map. Candidates hoping to win the White House, the governor’s mansion, or a Congressional seat in 2016 must discuss the climate threat.

It’s been an honor to be a small part of this transformation. It’s also been an incredible learning experience. It turns out, for instance, that PowerPoint Presentations can win Oscars, but voters still don’t want to hear about carbon wedges. And Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) can throw all the snowballs he wants on the Senate floor, but he can’t fool the majority of Americans into denying climate change.

Local Climate Stories Move Voters: When Gary Peters ran for Senate from Michigan, he didn’t talk about worldwide CO2 emissions or sea-level rise. He described how climate change was hurting the Great Lakes and other beloved people and places in Michigan. And he celebrated the 80,000 green goods and services jobs in the state. He also took on the Koch brothers, who were responsible for polluting waterways in the state and funding the opposition.  He won, and he confirmed the power of connecting the dots between global climate change, the fossil fuel cronies, and voters’ daily lives.

Running Clean Works: NRDC Action Fund research has confirmed that candidates who campaign on clean energy and climate action from the beginning win—including Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in 2012 to Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) in 2014. Clean energy provides a positive, solutions-based narrative to talk about issues that matter most to Americans: jobs, the economy, and the health of their families.

Big Money Is Here to Stay: Political time can be measured in two epochs: before the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling spilled millions of unregulated dollars into political campaigns, and after. It’s a fact of life now that spending has reached staggering heights. Fossil fuel industry spent more than $721 million in the 2014 election cycle alone. But the last presidential election proved that even that much money can’t buy you love. Despite the Koch brothers’ best efforts, clean energy and climate champions won up and down the ticket.

The Fight Is Spreading to the States in an even Bigger Way: Now that the Clean Power Plan has established limits on carbon pollution from power plants, each state can figure out how it will achieve its reductions. This is a huge opportunity to create new jobs and save people money on energy bills. But it is also a chance for naysayers to try to delay and interfere at the state level. That’s one reason I am joining the Ohio Environmental Council: I want to help set the bar high for climate action and clean energy growth in the Midwest.

Time to Paint Climate Stonewalling as Extremism: Republicans in Congress are trying to block the Clean Power Plan, and every GOP presidential candidate has decried it. Yet not a single one has offered a plan for tackling what is the biggest environmental and public health threat of our time. Poll after poll after poll confirms the vast majority of Americans want leaders to address climate change. It’s time to point out the GOP’s failure for what it is: out-of-step extremism.

It Will be Tough for a Climate Denier to Win the White House: Extensive polling from red and blue and purple states reveals that climate change matters to the majority of voters. And it really matters to three voting blocs that will be key to winning in 2016: women, Latinos, and young people. Voters want a leader in the White House who will confront the big challenges, not ignore their existence.

This Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Creating major political change requires stamina. The average bill becoming a law takes eight years to get passed, and most bills die well before that. A complex challenge like climate change will demand many bills, policies and technological innovations, but we will keep running until we cross the finish line. I do it because of my faith and because I want to leave the planet in better shape for my children. They deserve it. Our communities and beautiful wild places deserve it. And even our opponents deserve it.

See you in Ohio.

NRDC Action Fund Endorses Sen. Michael Bennet


 “Addressing climate change, protecting our environment and investing more in renewable energy are important priorities that reflect Colorado values, and I’m committed to making progress in these areas as Colorado’s senator.Sen. Michael Bennet

NRDC Action Fund is pleased to announce that we’ve endorsed Colorado Senator Michael Bennet for re-election in 2016.

Senator Bennet is a clean air hero who has fought against efforts to gut the Clean Air Act, and he led an effort to make the fight against global climate a national security priority. He has also led bipartisan efforts to protect the Hermosa Creek Watershed, Chimney Rock, and Browns Canyon. His re-election would be a boon for Coloradans and is essential for securing a pro-environment majority in the next Congress.

Bennet’s Record

While we haven’t agreed with Bennet on every issue, he has a very strong climate and energy record (which we touted back in 2010, too). In fact, we’re so confident in Senator Bennet’s demonstrated commitment to a clean energy future that we are making this endorsement without knowing who his opponent will be. There are few people who can beat a record like Senator Bennet’s and his growing seniority puts him in a position to truly make a difference on the issue right now.

How good is Senator Bennet? According to the database, he has a 100 percent record of voting in favor of clean air, making him a Clean Air Hero. Since started tracking clean air votes in 2011 the Senator has taken the right position every time on climate change, clean energy, upholding the Clean Air Act, and reducing pollution.

Bennet clean air hero

Senator Bennet doesn’t just vote right. He’s an outspoken champion on the need to act on climate change. In April, he offered an important amendment linking “national security, economic growth, and public health by addressing human-induced climate change through increased use of clean energy, energy efficiency, and reductions in carbon pollution.” Even in a Senate led by Dirty Denier Mitch McConnell, this common-sense amendment was adopted 53 to 47.

Senator Bennet has also been a leader in protecting sensitive public lands for future generations. He led the effort to permanently protect the 100,000-acre Hermosa Creek watershed in Southeastern Colorado. The bill to protect Hermosa Creek was signed into law in 2014 after years of bipartisan work with fellow lawmakers and local stakeholders. Bennet also worked to protect Chimney Rock, which President Obama designated as a National Monument.

Colorado Voters Want Climate Action, Clean Energy

Senator Bennet’s clean energy bona fides should serve him well in the campaign ahead because Colorado voters support climate action and clean energy. A recent poll by Public Policy Polling found that a majority (57 percent) of Colorado voters consider climate change a “serious problem” and support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Similarly, a July poll by Quinnipiac University found Colorado voters agreeing with Pope Francis’s call for climate action by a two to one margin. Earlier this year, a separate poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates, found majority support in Colorado for increased clean energy, energy efficiency and EPA climate action. President Obama’s former campaign manager has credited Obama’s focus on wind energy with helping him win the state in 2012.

Colorado is a battleground state and is home to a growing and prominent clean energy economy. Senator Bennet’s re-election would help Coloradans while sending a signal to the rest of the country that our future will be based on clean energy. Michael Bennet will be an important voice for that future – during the remainder of this Senatorial term, during his campaign, and we believe, in the next Congress.

Friends of Polluters Rack Up More Dirty Votes

Many citizens are outraged by how few days Congress is in session. Just last month, Congress took off a full week for Fourth of July and is now in recess for the entire month of August. Me? I am happy when Congress goes home as the Dirty Air Villains who run the place don’t seem to do anything good when they are there.

In the week after the Independence Day holiday, Dirty Air Villains brought forward the annual Interior-Environment Appropriations bill, which (under)funds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Interior (DOI), among other things. While the bill was ultimately pulled from the floor over the confederate flag, pro-pollution Members of Congress had plenty of time to go on record against the environment and public health.

The base bill sent to the House floor was bad to begin with. The bill provided far too little funding for EPA to carry out its work of protecting the environment and public health — $718 million less than the 2015 enacted level and $1.17 billion less than the President’s budget request. The bill also included more than a dozen damaging anti-environment riders (i.e. policy provisions unrelated to the agency’s funding level). Among the worst riders were provisions to block both the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule.  As the bill evolved on the floor, it got even worse. Here are a few of the lowlights:

Funding Level

A series of amendments further reduced already-low funding for EPA by a total of about $100 million. The biggest hit to the agency budget came in an amendment from Rep. Paul Gosar that reduced the agency’s budget by more than $60 million and was adopted by voice vote.

Don’t Breathe

In addition to the rider blocking the Clean Power Plan in the base bill, a number of amendments  also targeted the Clean Air Act .

An amendment from Rep. Diane Black, adopted by voice vote, would weaken proposed standards to make medium- and heavy-duty trucks cleaner. The proposed standards would reduce carbon pollution by 1 billion metric tons and save vehicle owners about $170 billion in fuel costs over the lifetime of the vehicles.

Two amendments targeted efforts to reduce ground level ozone pollution, the principal component of smog. In arguing for his amendment, which was rejected by voice vote, Rep. Ted Yoho made the nonsensical argument that “Ozone by itself is not always bad because it is used industrially” and disputed settled science on the impacts of ozone, saying “Yes, there have been reports of it causing respiratory problems, but that is also associated with spores and molds and things like that.” An amendment from Rep. Donna Edwards would have stricken a rider that limited EPA’s ability to strengthen ozone standards; it was rejected 180-249.

An amendment from Rep. Bruce Poliquin would block EPA standards to reduce toxic pollution, including mercury, from industrial boilers. The standards are estimated to avoid up to 8,100 premature deaths, 5,100 heart attacks, and 52,000 asthma attacks. The amendment, blocking these benefits, was adopted by voice vote.

Drill, Baby, Drill

Several amendments addressed polluters’ desire to increase drilling and mining for fossil fuels — without a concomitant desire to address safety or fairness for taxpayers.

Rep. Lois Capps, responding to the recent 100,000-gallon oil spill in her district, offered an amendment to increase funding of inland oil spill cleanup. The amendment, which was offset by a reduction in spending for new offshore drilling, was rejected 184-243.

Rep. Raul Grijalva offered an amendment to block a rider aimed at allowing unfettered mountaintop removal mining and the water pollution that sullies nearby streams. The amendment was rejected 189-239. Similarly, an amendment from Rep. Don Beyer aimed to allow EPA to protect drinking water from mining companies that currently dump mining waste in rivers and streams. The Beyer amendment was rejected on voice vote. Rep. Brenda Lawrence offered an amendment that would have undone a rider that aimed to block new safeguards for hydraulic fracturing. The amendment was rejected 179-250.

Finally, two amendments aimed to allow dirty energy companies to continue paying below-market rates for fossil fuels extracted from public lands. An amendment from Rep. Steve Pearce would prohibit any increase in the royalty rates paid for oil and gas. The Pearce amendment was adopted 231-198. An amendment from Rep. Ryan Zinke would have similarly prohibited the closing of a loophole that allows for cheap coal extraction from public lands. If the loophole were to be closed, taxpayers in states like Montana would see millions of additional income. The amendment was not voted upon.

Let Them Go Extinct

A number of amendments targeted DOI’s work to protect endangered species. Reps. Kevin Yoder, Glenn Thompson, and Paul Gosar each offered amendments prohibiting DOI from protecting different threatened species, the lesser prairie chicken, the northern long-eared bat and the Sonoran desert tortoise, respectively. All were adopted by voice vote. Rep. Niki Tsongas offered an amendment to block both the new riders and a rider regarding wolves that was included in the underlying bill. Her amendment was rejected 186 – 243.

A Brief Reprieve

While the bill has been pulled from the floor for now, you can bet the Dirty Air Villain leadership is already on the lookout for their next opportunity to enact the Big Polluter Agenda. We’ll be watching for these provisions to be slipped into the upcoming continuing resolution or to be used as bargaining chips in the development of an omnibus appropriations bill. With Congress heading off for six weeks of recess, at least we know they can’t do any more damage now.

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