In response to Blog Action Day today I would like to share a victory from one of my favorite organizations, WildEarth Guardians, whose members work tirelessly to keep our air and water clean and to protect our wild places and species.
One of the many pieces in our patchwork of environmental legislation is the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act (CAA), in part, requires the EPA to identify air pollutants that are a danger to the welfare of the public and adopt nationally uniform ambient air quality standards. With an eye towards meeting those standards the CAA requires states to prepare and submit implementation plans that outline specific measures designed to assure the air quality within each state meets the national air quality standards. The CAA also requires that states whose air quality does not meet the national standards prevent significant deterioration of their already sub-par air quality.
Recently the EPA, in response to a petition from WildEarth Guardians, issued a new ruling that will dramatically and positively effect the quality of our air. Prior to this ruling Colorado failed to aggregate its oil and gas emissions, allowing pollution at a significantly higher level than should be permitted under the purview of the Clean Air Act, the Colorado state implementation plan, and the federal and state prevention of significant deterioration guidelines (PSD). Oil and gas operations consist of hundreds to thousands of component parts, and each one emits pollutants into the atmosphere. The gas drilling operation in question, for example, consists of several gas wells adjacent to a compressor station that takes the mined gas and compresses the gas for transportation through pipelines. The oil and gas companies have long acted as though each well is a single source of pollution and may emit under the permit without violating the overall permit limits. However, none of the gas pumped out of these wells would be usable for its intended purpose without the compressor station. Therefore it has been long argued that the compressor station, the gas wells, and the pipeline connecting them are interdependent and therefore should qualify as a major stationary source using the criteria set out in the federal and state PSD regulations. Without this aggregation each individual part may pollute within the guidelines of the CAA permits but when aggregated a oil and gas operation pollutes well outside the limits of the permits, significantly harming the air quality in the west and adding to our smog, environmental decline, and respiratory health problems. This rampant uncontrolled polluting contributes to the degradation of our nation’s air quality and does little to assist in our efforts to deter environmental harm and handle the coming climate change.
Under the new EPA ruling these individual component parts will be treated like a single emissions source and this continued violation of the spirit of the Clean Air Act will stop. It is expected that Colorado will see a significant decrease in air emissions, up to ninety percent. This ruling is a huge victory for air quality.