Opinion: Utah runners must support the EPA methane rule

As the largest outdoor recreation group in the U.S., we have an opportunity to support national and state policies that will have meaningful impact.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Trail runners descend Little Water Trail as trees explode with color at the top of Millcreek Canyon.

Utah is a runner’s paradise, loaded with extensive trail networks in the many alpine mountain ranges from the Wasatch Mountains in the north to the La Sals in the southeastern part of the state. Utah also boasts incredible desert running in our national parks like Zion and Canyonlands as well as across our famous Bureau of Land Management areas. Utah runners regularly partake in the many trail races held throughout the state year-round, such as Moab’s Red Hot and the internationally famous Speedgoat 50k held in Little Cottonwood Canyon above Salt Lake City.

Unfortunately, Utah is also famous for poor air quality and is commonly ranked as one of the most polluted states in the country. And global warming is damaging the places we love to run in profound ways. Longer and hotter summers combined with unpredictable winters lead to water scarcity and changes to the unique ecosystems we visit every day. More frequent natural disasters, such as extreme wildfires, not only devastate landscapes and communities but also degrade air quality and increasingly close access to vast areas of public lands limiting opportunities to recreate outside. Healthy public lands bring quality of life, visitors and business investment to nearby communities through outdoor recreation, but only if we ensure the responsible management of those lands.

Today, methane waste and pollution from oil and gas production on public lands is a major contributor to our warming planet and is harming the iconic places that bring quality of life to frontline communities, outdoor recreation opportunities and business investment to local economies.

Over a 20-year period, methane is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, methane released or burned through oil and gas developments, such as wells and pipelines, can often be controlled through better maintenance and improved monitoring. If methane pollution continues unchecked, future generations will no longer be able to safely explore our country’s great rivers, mountains, forests, deserts and running trails. Poor air quality is not only harmful to the health of our communities but will also harm local economies that rely on access to the outdoors.

A recent report found that Utah’s fossil fuel producers released 16 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2019, with 87% coming from leaks that are often easily fixable and the rest from venting and flaring. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it also imposes a significant economic toll. This amount of natural gas waste is valued at $48 million and $6.7 million in lost revenue to the state in the form of taxes and royalties.

But what can runners do about air quality and the climate crisis? As the largest outdoor recreation group in the U.S., we have an opportunity to support national and state policies that will have meaningful impacts on the environment and the communities most impacted by environmental degradation.

The federal government is taking consequential actions right now to mitigate global warming. Recent rules announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aim to reduce oil and gas methane pollution through sensible approaches that are long overdue, such as using more effective technology to find and fix leaks. The EPA methane rule is poised to be a highly effective and immediate way to reduce methane pollution by instituting new limits that will reduce methane emissions — but it is only the first step. Utah now has two years to develop a strong state-level plan that complies with the emission standards set forth in the federal methane rule that will improve air quality for residents and all of us who recreate in Utah’s great outdoors.

Increasingly global warming is affecting our everyday lives, and through our collective voice runners can influence how our government responds to the climate crisis. Runners for Public Lands (RPL) is a national nonprofit that represents the interests of over 60 million runners across the country, including many who live and recreate in Utah. RPL believes runners can make a difference, and our moment is now.

We hope you’ll join us in supporting common-sense federal and state policies that address the climate crisis and protect access to outdoor recreation opportunities for all, including ensuring that Utah develops a strong state plan for the EPA methane rule.

(Photo courtesy of Jason Keith) Jason Keith

Jason Keith is a board member of Runners for Public Lands. Based in Moab, Jason works with outdoor recreation non-profits on public land access, conservation, and economic development. Jason also co-founded Moab’s Running Up For Air race, held for the first time last April.

(Photo courtesy of Kathleen Baker) Kathleen Baker

Kathleen Baker is the executive director of Runners for Public Lands. Kathleen’s career spans federal, state, and local government program development, policy implementation, and operations. Kathleen is also the founder and race director of the Mount Laguna Trail Marathon in San Diego, CA.

Runners for Public Lands is the 501(c)(3) dedicated to organizing runners for climate action, the protection of public lands, and equitable access to outdoor recreation.

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