Gustavo Aguirre Jr.

Gustavo Aguirre Jr.

There is still some hope that enough members of Congress will have the courage to stop the recent attacks on important environmental protections, including the Wasted Methane and Gas Rule.

Wherever there is drilling for gas on public lands, this rule prevents taxpayer-owned resources from being dumped, along with toxic chemicals, into our air. It is especially important here in the Central Valley, where we suffer some of the worst air quality in the nation.

Unfortunately, three of the Central Valley’s congressional representatives, Kevin McCarthy, David Valadao and Jeff Denham, recently voted to roll back the Wasted Methane and Gas Rule. Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno, who on his official website describes “Improving Air Quality” as one of his main concerns, was the only California Democrat to join forces with Republicans in attacking the rule.

Apparently they all believe giving favors to the oil and gas industry is more important than protecting the health and well-being of their constituents.

The Wasted Methane and Gas Rule was finalized in November and limits leaks from oil and gas operations on public lands while also reducing “flaring,” or intentional burning, and “venting,” the deliberate release of methane into the atmosphere.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Under this practical rule, companies drilling on public lands would need to utilize modern technology to capture and reuse this gas, rather than waste it and pollute our air. Further, they would have to pay royalties to taxpayers for all of the methane they pull out of the ground.

If the Wasted Methane and Gas Rule is actually overturned by the Senate, the Western Values Project estimates that taxpayers will lose $800 million over the next 10 years. We would also lose a source of jobs. A growing industry aimed at improving drilling methods and reducing natural gas leaks has taken off, employing people in nearly every state including California.

That’s why environmental organizations, community health advocates and taxpayer watchdogs all agree on this issue. Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, sharply criticized Congress’ recent assault on the rule, stating that “opposition to a particular government regulation should not mean overlooking potential waste, fraud and abuse at the expense of taxpayers.”

Now it’s time for residents of the Central Valley to speak up. Clearly, some of our elected representatives have forgotten that we should be their top concern – not the oil and gas industry. Let Reps. McCarthy, Valadao, Denham and Costa know that you care about your family’s health and don’t want our precious natural resources to be wasted.

It’s time for them and their colleagues in Congress to support smart regulations like the Wasted Methane and Gas Rule and to look out for the people they represent.

Gustavo Aguirre Jr. of Bakersfield is a project coordinator for the Central California Environmental Justice Network.