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Pollution hurts us all, no matter what D.C. says

One of the greatest threats to our health and our public lands has become centered around New Mexico and the American Southwest. And it is time for our elected officials and communities to come together and fight back.

Time and time again, the Trump administration has chosen to put oil and gas industry interests ahead of the health of New Mexico’s families, national parks and public lands. The people of New Mexico deserve to be prioritized over special interests, but instead they’re facing worsened air pollution, threatened sacred and historic sites, and $275 million worth of wasted natural gas from venting, flaring and leaks every year, thanks to this administration’s energy policies. The Trump administration has worked tirelessly to open up more public lands for drilling, often adjacent to areas prized for their cultural, historical and recreational values such as Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Compounding matters, by gutting the 2016 BLM waste prevention rule last year, the administration put our kids and families at an even greater risk for exposure to harmful air pollution – demonstrating where its priorities lie.

The impacts of these energy policies are front and center in the American Lung Association’s 2019 State of the Air Report, which gave poor or failing grades for ozone pollution to Eddy and Lea counties in the booming gas fields of the Permian Basin and Rio Arriba and San Juan counties, where Chaco Culture National Historical Park is located.

The science is clear. Both short-term and long-term exposure to ozone come with real and serious risks to our health and our planet. Extensive scientific research, including studies by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), demonstrates a relationship between ozone exposure and respiratory distress, cardiovascular problems, premature death, strokes and neurological effects, especially in children and the elderly. Asthma is now the most common non-communicable disease in children in the United States. In New Mexico, our asthma rate is higher than the national average, and ozone-forming pollutants from the oil and gas sector contribute to that problem. Each year, tens of thousands of children are sent to the emergency room due to decreased lung function and increased respiratory symptoms. No child should be forced to miss school or skip a visit to the park or playground with their friends due to worsened asthma from oil and gas pollution. We must do better to change the future for children in New Mexico and across the country.

Methane, another oil and gas pollutant, is a powerful climate change pollutant responsible for 25 percent of the global warming we’re experiencing today. While the state has historically struggled with inadequate rules to address air pollution and climate change, Gov. Michelle Luján Grisham has set an example for the rest of the country and federal government by (requesting) strong state methane rules and prioritizing comprehensive action on climate change and the protection of future generations.

We are grateful to the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives on Natural Resources for recently visiting with communities in New Mexico, taking a tour of our irreplaceable landscapes, and seeing first hand the impacts of oil and gas pollution. And we are equally thankful for the efforts of new state Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard to protect sacred sites such as Chaco Canyon from oil and gas development.

Impacts do not stop at state, tribal or international borders. It is our hope that U.S. Sens. (Tom) Udall and (Martin) Heinrich, U.S. Reps. (Ben Ray) Luján, (Deb) Haaland and (Xochitl) Torres Small, Commissioner Garcia Richard and Gov. Luján Grisham continue to champion state and federal policies to reduce oil and gas pollution locally and across the country. We must keep the pressure up to protect public health and public lands to allow our communities to thrive for years to come.