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Guest opinion: Allison Post: U.S. would be healthier if Colorado methane rules were national policy

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By Dr. Allison Post

I became a family doctor to make the world a better place by using my head and my heart to help people, specifically those people who regularly don’t get the help they need. Then I was reminded again how it feels to be someone who needed immediate help with an essential element of daily life.

My home almost burned down in Colorado’s second-largest wildfire on record. My partner and I were displaced for over a week, watching the reports and sky for clues about our future, it suddenly occurred to me that this enormous, incredibly disruptive environmental calamity could be the new normal. Climate change wasn’t just a scientific theory anymore; it had become an immediate, existential threat in my life. Just like my decision to enter medicine, I knew any progress had to come from people committing themselves to the solution.

Driving along many stretches of highway across our country, drilling sites are frequent and obvious: tall walls surrounding mechanical drills many stories high. In other places, metal pipelines and beige tanks contain oil and gas. What is not visible is one of the worst contributors to climate change, methane, leaking out of these wells, tanks and pipelines.

Although methane is odorless and tasteless, it is absolutely harmful. If carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is like a blanket that is warming our planet, methane is like a heated blanket, 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide early in its lifespan. In a 2021 United Nations climate science report, about 30% of the global temperature rise of the last century was found to be caused by methane. Tackling methane emissions is a critical piece of addressing the consequences of our warming planet: flooding of coastal cities, destructive wildfires and damage to the crops that feed us.

As methane turns up the heat in our towns and cities, we are forced to breathe more ozone. As a family doctor in Northern Colorado, I take care of newborns, children who have asthma and older adults who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attacks and strokes. All of these people are at risk for detrimental effects of ground-level ozone. Ozone irritates the lungs of kids with asthma and adults with chronic issues and makes heart attacks and strokes more likely. Higher concentrations of ozone are associated with low birth-weight babies, who are at risk for difficulty paying attention and learning in school. My patients can make a lot of choices that affect their health, but they can’t control how much ozone is in the air they breathe.

The Biden Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have a chance to protect us from methane emissions, but they need to hear from us. We must raise our voices and let them know that we support the science that tells us methane must be regulated now and it must be regulated aggressively. I am proud to say that Colorado’s methane standards can serve as a blueprint for change.

Nationally, Colorado has set a high bar for methane regulations with numerous efforts to curb emissions over the past decade. In 2014, Colorado became the first state in the nation to directly regulate methane pollution from upstream oil and gas operations, which inspired the national methane rules adopted by the Obama administration in 2016. Since then, we’ve taken even more stringent action against methane, with rules including frequent leak detection and repair of low-producing wells, requirements for oil and gas operators to install zero-bleed or zero-emission pneumatic devices and rules to eliminate pollution from venting and flaring, all enacted in the past four years.

Without enacting immediate measures like Colorado’s to reduce methane emissions, our leaders are condemning us to a future filled with drought, natural disasters and polluted air that jeopardizes our health. When we talk with our children and grandchildren about the effects of climate change, we must know in our hearts that we have done everything in our power to protect them and their health.

You can urge the EPA to enact strong methane controls by registering your concern with them directly. We owe it to our health to try.

Dr. Allison Post is a family physician working in Loveland and Greeley. She works with Healthy Air and Water Colorado on the intersection of public health and climate change.