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Joe Grandpre

Joe Grandpre

The Star-Tribune is right to point out that the clean air rules now being finalized in Sublette, Lincoln and Sweetwater Counties can form the template for needed statewide requirements (“Once a Pinedale problem, ozone becomes a challenge for Wyoming,” Dec. 14). Breathing is the great equalizer. It’s something we all have to do, so it makes sense to also make sure the air each of us breathes is equally protected.

Ozone is a serious public health issue. Health studies show that exposure to high levels of ozone pollution (commonly referred to as “smog”) leads to lung problems such as asthma, causes respiratory and cardiovascular harm, and is a leading cause of hospital visits especially among children.

In recent years ozone has become a health problem in the area around Pinedale. Rapid oil and gas development in the Upper Green River Basin has led to spikes in ozone pollution that have at times rivaled the smog levels in Los Angeles and have received several failing grades in the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” reports. A recent study by the Wyoming Department of Health documented an increase in clinic visits for adverse respiratory-related effects on particularly smoggy days in Sublette County.

New rules are currently being finalized that will help clean up the air around Pinedale. Reducing ozone pollution is an important public health issue and we are glad to see the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality make a serious attempt to better protect local citizens in its proposed rules.

These rules will reduce oil and gas air pollution from existing sources and better protect the health of local residents. Independent studies have shown that the pollution reduction methods they require – things like regular instrument-based leak detection inspections at well sites and compressor stations and swapping out old, outdated equipment for newer, less polluting models -- are sensible and very cost effective.

In fact, these proven pollution reduction methods are so sensible that the leading producers in the basin are already implementing them on a voluntary basis. Making them requirements will help level the playing field and clear the air.

Further cost effective air pollution reductions are still available if the state is willing to consider them. I would encourage the state to put in place as strong a rule as possible, covering as many sources as possible, as soon as possible.

These rules will be considered by the Environmental Quality Council in April. If they stay strong this could be a real public health success story for this region. However, the fact is that 80 percent of the oil and gas drilling in Wyoming is now happening elsewhere in the state. And unfortunately it’s in the part of the state (particularly Converse, Campbell and Laramie counties) where the weakest air quality rules apply.

As development in these areas has ramped up so have ozone pollution levels and these eastern counties are being threatened with Pinedale-style ozone problems under newly revised EPA standards. A Wyoming led, Wyoming developed solution to this problem is called for before the federal government imposes one on us.

Wyoming is proud of its wealth of mineral resources, which are widespread across the state. Every Wyoming county except Teton reported some oil and gas production in 2014. Unfortunately, the necessary air quality public health protections needed around this development aren’t as evenly spread. It’s time for a statewide solution to what is becoming a statewide problem.

The cost-effective, common-sense air protections developed in Pinedale should be applied on a statewide basis as soon as possible. Residents of the Equality State deserve equal access to healthy, clean air.

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Joe Grandpre is president of the Wyoming Public Health Association.

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