By Roz Brown, Public News Service – NM
May 16, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A bill to reduce the waste of natural gas from venting, flaring and leaks on public lands has been introduced in Congress with backing from lawmakers from New Mexico.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, with the state’s ongoing drilling boom, upstream oil and gas operations now emit about five times more than what data from the Environmental Protection Agency suggests.

James Jimenez, executive director of the group New Mexico Voices for Children, says that level of pollution makes breathing harder for vulnerable communities, including children, the elderly and anyone who spends time outdoors.

He maintains the capture of methane waste would ensure the public gets long-term benefits.

“Certainly it cuts down on greenhouse gas, and health implications that it has, but it’s also just wasting a public resource that, in every other instance in the state, we really require companies to capture and the public gets the benefit out of it,” he states.

Methane waste is estimated to cost New Mexico $275 million each year, money Jimenez notes could be going to schools, roads and other infrastructure.

Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján and Natural Resources Committee Vice Chair Deb Haaland are co-sponsors of the bill introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

Jimenez acknowledges that oil and gas are important to New Mexico’s economy, but says other nearby states are finding solutions to the problems associated with venting, flaring and leaks.

He adds that jobs designed to capture wasted methane also would enhance the state’s economy.

“We’ve seen, for example, in states like Colorado that have enacted commonsense methane-capture regulations, that the industry can adapt and it can be part of growing the economy,” he points out.

Last month, the House Natural Resources Committee held a field hearing in Santa Fe to see first-hand the impacts on health and the environment from reduced methane pollution standards.

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