Safeguarding public health is central to the mission of the Environmental Improvement Board (EIB), and it has a rare opportunity to protect the long-term health of all New Mexicans with a single action this month. As it considers the New Mexico Environment Department’s (NMED) proposed oil and gas pollution rules, the EIB should resist industry attempts to weaken the regulation and instead include key improvements supported by public health advocates and industry that will deliver the strongest possible protections – especially for frontline communities living closest to well sites.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made a commitment to enacting rules to cut ozone and methane pollution that are a model for the nation in protecting public health. NMED has worked long and hard to get here and, with a few key improvements at (a two-week) hearing that (ended Oct. 1), the state can finalize rules that truly lead the nation and protect frontline communities from pollution. The communities we work with are seeing the serious health impacts of oil and gas pollution. (Such) pollution is taking a toll on all New Mexicans’ air, water and health, but rural communities, tribal communities, children and the elderly are especially at risk. The American Lung Association gave New Mexico’s top oil- and gas-producing counties – Lea, Eddy and San Juan – an F grade for ozone in its 2021 State of the Air Report. Oil and gas operations are a significant source of ozone-forming VOCs (volatile organic compounds), as well as methane emissions from venting, flaring and leaks. Well-site toxins can worsen respiratory diseases and trigger asthma attacks, and smog can also worsen emphysema and impact the cardiovascular system. That is why the EIB should strengthen the proposed rules to protect frontline communities by requiring more frequent inspections to find and fix leaks at sites that are in our backyards; accelerate the transition to lower polluting zero-bleed pneumatic controllers; and ensure that pollution created during well completions is captured.
Not only are improvements to the NMED’s proposed rules based on requirements already in place in such leading states as Colorado, but also they are supported by public health, community and environmental leaders across the state, as well as by the National Park Service and even by Oxy USA Inc., one of the top producers in New Mexico’s Permian Basin. This level of broad, diverse support is rare in New Mexico, and it offers the EIB an excellent opportunity to enact nation-leading rules that protect all of us from dangerous oil and gas pollution. More than 130,000 New Mexicans live within a half-mile of oil and gas development, including communities of color that face disproportionate impacts from climate change and air pollution.
Operators such as Oxy understand that reducing emissions is common sense, and good for their bottom line and our air. Colorado has successfully implemented rules, including more frequent inspection schedules for frontline communities, that have led to a drop in leaks and emissions. Now, it’s New Mexico’s turn.
We support Gov. Lujan Grisham and NMED’s efforts to hold the oil and gas industry accountable in reducing ozone and methane pollution. For our health and for our climate, the EIB must strengthen the proposed pollution rules to protect New Mexicans living closest to development.