We need a strong federal methane rule to protect Latino communities

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The climate crisis is here and Latinos (who we’ll call Latino communities) across the country are already experiencing some of the most serious impacts. Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a plan to reduce methane emissions, which is the fastest, easiest and cheapest thing we can do to immediately slow the pace of climate change.

Reducing methane pollution from the oil and gas industry will slow climate change and improve the health of Latin American communities across the country. It’s time we put the health and safety of our communities above the polluters in the oil and gas industry. The EPA must adopt strong, comprehensive methane safeguards to protect our health and our planet.

With more than 80 times the short-term warming power of carbon dioxide, methane sets the pace for the warming we experience today. Extreme heat puts outdoor workers, especially the roughly 3 million farm workers — 77 percent of whom are Latino — at increased risk of dehydration, heat stroke and other dangerous health consequences.

Methane pollution is also released alongside toxic pollution such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and benzene. These pollutants can reportedly exacerbate asthma, respiratory disease and even cause cancer. The 1.6 million Latin Americans who live within half a mile of active oil and gas operations across the country are most likely to be affected by these hazardous pollutants. This pollution is harming our community members from coast to coast – especially the most vulnerable, such as those already living with chronic respiratory disease.

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In New York City, the country’s third-hottest heat island, methane pollution from the oil and gas sector is contributing to the endless upsurge of heat waves, which is especially dangerous in industrial neighborhoods. As an asthmatic, I (Dharma) sometimes feel my chest contracting when I’m outside, and I carry an inhaler with me – just in case. Millions of Hispanic children and families across the country – especially those living near oil and gas operations – are also facing this unacceptable reality.

Meanwhile, on the other coast, Latin families in Whittier, California are surrounded by the oil and gas industry. Growing up near the Santa Fe oil field, I (Irene) would regularly find playdates interrupted by a friend who desperately needed an inhaler to reopen their airway. The American Lung Association consistently rates Los Angeles County as having the worst air quality in the country due to its many sources of industrial pollution, including thousands of active oil wells.

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Fortunately, last November, the Biden administration released an updated draft rule to reduce methane and other harmful pollutants from oil and gas operations. We must continue to urge the EPA to address the climate crisis and protect public health by quickly completing the strongest methane protections possible.

In January, we proudly represented nearly 600 GreenLatinos members at virtual public hearings held by the EPA. In our testimony, we identified critical opportunities for the agency to strengthen the rule. We are counting on the EPA to finalize a rule that limits the wasteful and dangerous practice of routine flaring, better addresses storage tank emissions and provides a clear path for community members to participate in the Super Emitter Response Program . EPA must protect our families by prioritizing accountability and inclusive participation in this Super Emitter Response program and all of its work.

At the same time, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is taking steps to reduce methane pollution on public lands by proposing a new rule to limit methane spills. While we welcome this action, BLM must further protect resources and taxpayers by ending the unnecessary waste of public and indigenous tribal resources, stepping up efforts to hold oil and gas operators accountable, and through the practice of routine limit flaring.

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Both federal agencies, EPA and BLM, need to hear from people on the front lines of oil and gas development. Anyone concerned about climate change, health and our economic future should speak up and ask the Biden administration to reduce methane pollution from oil and gas to promote public health and environmental justice. The TUSEN for submitting public comments on the BLM’s proposed methane rule is January 30, and public comments on the EPA’s proposed methane rule are due February 13. Don’t delay speaking, every voice matters in the fight to protect public health and the planet.

Dharma Santos-Santiago is an advocate for climate justice and clean air for GreenLatinos in New York City.

Irene Burga is the climate justice and clean air program director of GreenLatinos in Whittier, California.

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