Jason Keith: As Utah faces extreme drought, it’s time for common-sense climate solutions

Mitt Romney should get behind rules to control methane emissions.

Utah is in for a rough summer. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, just over 90 percent of the state is in severe or extreme drought.

Climate change is fundamentally changing the Intermountain West. We are seeing prolonged drought throughout the Colorado River Basin, which means more intense wildfire seasons, increased water security issues, hotter summers threating our health, and more access restrictions to our public lands.

We simply cannot afford to ignore the effects climate change is having in our great state.

Thankfully, Utahns understand the challenge ahead and came together last year to adopt the Utah Climate & Clean Air Compact. I supported this historic statement, joining 120 local officials, business leaders, public health professionals, public land advocates, and faith leaders to put the state on a path to cut climate and air pollution.

At the crux of the compact and the Utah Air Quality/Climate Change Road Map is the goal of cutting climate and air pollution. In fact, the compact’s first principle of “Health and Well-Being” called for “urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and criteria pollutants in a manner that lifts all communities.” Another key element of the compact is its focus on economy: important industries such as agriculture, outdoor recreation, winter tourism, technology, and energy will all benefit from Utah’s climate and clean air leadership.

Sen. Mitt Romney now has an opportunity to support these important principles.

Congress is currently considering a bipartisan Congressional Review Act resolution (S.J.Res.14) that would restore common-sense rules that reduce methane and air pollution from oil and gas operations.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is more than 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years that it is in the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that methane is responsible for about a quarter of the climate change that Utah is experiencing today.

The largest industrial source of methane emissions is the oil and gas sector. Methane either leaks from equipment and infrastructure or is deliberately vented or flared into the atmosphere. In addition to methane, oil and gas operations also release smog-forming volatile organic compounds. This pollution has led to failing grades for smog in all of Utah’s major oil and gas producing counties. This is problematic for the thousands of Utahns living in those counties and poses a long-term threat to our vibrant outdoor recreation economy.

The good news is that we have cost effective solutions today to cut methane and air pollution. Forward thinking companies in the oil and gas industry use a variety of technologies to find and fix methane leaks such as optical gas imaging cameras that can see methane, continuous emissions monitoring systems installed on site, or aerial or drone monitoring.

It is no wonder that support for methane rules is widespread in the oil and gas industry. Shell, BP, Equinor, EQT, Total, Jonah Energy, Cheniere, Equitrans Midstream and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America have all gone on record in support of the Congressional Review Act resolution to restore methane rules. Support from the industry makes sense, because when methane emissions are reduced these companies can instead bring that product to market and generate additional revenue for themselves—and more royalty and tax revenue for Utahns.

We need action now because Utah is already hurting from climate change and the prolonged drought in the West. When it comes time to consider S.J.Res.14 on the floor of the Senate later this month, we urge Sen. Romney to stand up for the principles in Utah Climate & Clean Air Compact and vote to restore common sense rules that will cut methane and air pollution. This is the lowest hanging fruit in the work to address climate change.

Jason Keith

Jason Keith is managing director of Public Land Solutions and a signatory of the Utah Climate & Clean Air Compact.