The ball is rolling on improving persistent air pollution problems in the Pinedale area. It is now up to all of us to make sure that action is taken as quickly as possible.
On Jan. 10, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality announced its initial plan to address air pollution in the Pinedale area based on consensus recommendations from the Upper Green River Basin Air Quality Citizens Advisory Task Force. The department brought a broad group of local citizens, elected officials, oil and gas industry and environmental representatives together to recommend ways to reduce the dangerous ozone pollution — sometimes called smog — that has plagued Pinedale-area communities for several years.
The DEQ is seeking to improve regional air quality and better protect the people that live and work in the Upper Green River Basin. This action plan is an important first step. Pinedale’s ozone problem is a public health issue that can and should be corrected as soon as possible. Anything less than swift action puts our residents at risk unnecessarily.
Ozone is a toxic air pollutant widely known to cause a host of respiratory problems, even in relatively low concentrations. Smog contributes to serious health problems, including decreased lung function and premature mortality, and it damages foliage. Children, the elderly, Americans with existing lung and heart disease, and those active outside are especially vulnerable. The unhealthy levels of smog-forming ozone pollution that we have seen in the Upper Green River Basin in recent years must be reduced to ensure public health is protected.
As members of the task force, we are encouraged that the department plans to implement our collective recommendations. These practical approaches to reduce ozone pollution followed nine months of task-force deliberations and six lengthy meetings. The state’s move to pursue all 10 recommendations signals its commitment to this effort — but, as they say, the devil will be in the details. And, it is essential that the DEQ implement these steps as quickly as possible.
That such a broad group could reach consensus on 10 commonsense methods to address air pollution issues is a testament to our dedication as a community to solve this dangerous ozone problem. This group’s hard work will be well worth it when, among other things, reductions in fugitive emissions from leaking oil and gas drilling equipment are achieved and when strong, sensible pollution controls for existing sources are made a regulatory reality and — most importantly — air quality in the area begins to improve.
This is a crucial time. The DEQ needs to make these ideas a reality and implement them swiftly.
These proposals – especially efforts to eliminate gas leaks from equipment – are also actions that make economic sense. In the natural gas business, a leak means less product to sell and a hit to the bottom line.
And business as usual is not an option here. Recent emissions studies show that leaky equipment is a large source of local pollution, and predictions are that this pollution will increase in coming years unless strong actions are taken.
Actions are also needed to forestall stringent federal requirements that could impact local businesses. Since the EPA has formally designated the Upper Green River Basin in nonattainment with the national ozone standard, if the state does not bring the area back into compliance with this standard by the end of 2015, even more significant pollution controls could be required by the Clean Air Act. This is a potentially expensive prospect that the energy industry, and others in Wyoming, do not want to face.
The DEQ’s announcement to move forward on these practical consensus recommendations is a starting point. Local citizens have suffered for too long from ozone problems that threaten public health and the environment and that are bad for economic development. The DEQ has offered an outline that, if implemented quickly and completely, will help put us on the path toward cleaner, healthier air in the Upper Green River Valley.
We will remain involved in this process to ensure that the DEQ follows through expeditiously. And we hope that all Wyoming citizens will join us in this effort. Wyoming has a strong history of leadership in regulating air pollution from the oil and gas sector. Let’s keep that hard-earned reputation in place and make sure we have strong standards to reduce emissions and protect communities.