Pennsylvania is acting to avert a man-made crisis to protect its economy, environment and $750 million in federal funds

Image courtesy of Earthworks

By John Rutecki and John Walliser

On Nov 21StPennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that his administration will pursue a now-approved emergency regulation to complete long-overdue volatile organic compound and methane rules for the conventional oil and gas industry.

Why the need for an emergency regulation?

Because without public notice or a hearing, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, prevented the rule from becoming final before the end of the year — setting off a chain reaction of consequences that could deprive Pennsylvania of as much as B. 750 million Dollars in funding for infrastructure like roads and bridges while dealing a blow to the state’s economy and environment.

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how did we get here

Pennsylvania’s VOC and methane regulation is mandated by federal laws — specifically the 2016 Control Technique Guidelines (CTGs) issued by the EPA — which set out the bare minimum that states must do to reduce pollution. Pennsylvania’s rule has been evolving since that time, when Gov. Wolf first announced his methane strategy in 2016.

Measured against today’s technology and accepted industry controls, the 2016 CTGs represent the lowest common denominator of protection and are accepted as standard practice by industry leaders.

The state’s proposed VOC and methane rule underwent a robust period of public comment, with over 38,000 Pennsylvanians expressing their support, including a bipartisan group of local officials, as well as faith leaders, public health groups, veterans’ organizations, businesses, environmental groups and others.

On October 12 of this year, the Environmental Quality Board approved modest changes to the proposed rule, which were then signed off by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission in November.

Despite that federal mandate and broad public support, Chairman Metcalfe waited a full month until the closing days of the session to force a rule postponement.

This made it inevitable that the state would miss a December 16thth Deadline for Pennsylvania to finalize the VOC and methane rule, which would trigger mandatory sanctions impacting the regulated community and residents statewide — including jeopardizing up to $750 million in federal infrastructure funding.

Put industry laggards ahead of Pennsylvanians

The consequences of the Committee’s actions were known to the Chair and to the members who supported it.

Rather than acknowledging the necessary and long-overdue safeguards to contain oil and gas pollution and protect the public, they have chosen to act on behalf of the conventional oil and gas industry, which has relentlessly fought against even the most basic safety precautions and compliance measures has – despite driving – half of the methane emissions in the state of Pennsylvania.

The same industry is now benefiting from billions of tax dollars being used to plug the abandoned wells. These are the same actors who are also spreading a false narrative about onerous regulations, when in fact Pennsylvania has some of the weakest standards of protection in the country.

Even in Texas, the oil and gas industry—in conventional and unconventional operations and regardless of how much their wells are producing—complies with the basic standards in the 2016 CTGs.

This was a reckless move to put the self-interest of the industry’s worst players above those of Pennsylvania’s communities, economy and environment.

A reasonable way forward

Governor Wolf realized that without action, the public would once again suffer the consequences of the disability. This emergency rule, now approved by EQB, will allow for publication of the VOC and methane rule in the Pennsylvania Bulletin – ensuring Pennsylvania meets its deadline and receives hundreds of millions of infrastructure dollars.

By law, the legislature still has the ability to enact the rule if it so chooses, so the governor’s actions do not override the legislature’s authority.

It’s time these basic standards were in place and conventional industry held accountable for its pollution. Next year, the EPA will finalize and reinforce common sense requirements that will further reduce oil and gas pollution — once complete, states like Pennsylvania will be able to adopt these new standards through state implementation plans known as SIPs enacted

Pennsylvania is overdue when it comes to protecting against critical oil and gas pollution, and it must look forward to supporting true industry leadership and accountability as it develops its State Implementation Plan, SIP, to achieve and maintain air quality standards.