Speaking Out for Justice

United Methodist Women members ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect the vulnerable.

Speaking Out for Justice
Director Daryl Junes Joe testifies at the EPA building Washington, D.C., urging the agency to reduce harmful methane gas emissions.

Three United Methodist Women members raised their voices on behalf of the vulnerable, women and children in Washington, D.C., July 2017, speaking out against a possible postponement of regulations affecting natural gas and oil production.

Elizabeth Chun Hye Lee, United Methodist Women executive for economic and environmental justice, was joined by Jeanne Long, from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Daryl Junes Joe, from Shiprock, New Mexico, in speaking during a public hearing at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is considering a two-year “stay,” or postponement, of a June 2016 rule that requires manufacturers of natural gas and oil to adhere to strict performance standards when it came to “fugitive emissions at well sites and compressor stations (‘fugitive emissions requirements’) and emissions from pneumatic pumps.”

According to an article in the Scientific American, “The regulations require companies to find and contain leaks with the goal of reducing methane pollution by the equivalent of 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2025, or roughly the same as the emissions from 2.34 million passenger cars.”

During the production and drilling process of natural gas and oil, methane and other gases often leak out. These gases, which are known contributors to global warming, also put people’s health at risk.

On June 5, the EPA said that it delayed, for 90 days, the emissions requirements and the requirements for certification of closed vent systems by professional engineers. They are now seeking to extend the stay for two years. That delay isn’t good, said Lee, who told the EPA panel that “all the earth” needs to be protected.

“The two-year stay would harm the health of children, increase global warming and waste resources God has given us,” she said, adding that many of the hundreds of thousands of United Methodist Women members live or worship near oil rigs, fracking sites, compression stations or pipelines. Lee said that many people are sick because of inhaling toxins from these places.

“We are deeply troubled that the EPA proposes this stay even while acknowledging that this stay could disproportionately impact the health of children,” said Lee. “A two-year stay would mean that over 18,000 wells would not have methane regulations needed to protect over 200,000 people living within a half-mile of these wells, of whom 51,000 are children.”

Joe, who is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and a member of United Methodist Women’s board of directors, served as a tribal prosecutor for 30 years. This was the first time she had ever come to Washington to give a statement like this, she said.

Living in the northwest corner of New Mexico, she told the EPA that there are hundreds of oil and gas well sites in that part of the country along with fracking, all of which release methane gas.

“Oil and gas companies bribed my people with thousands of dollars to lease portions of their land so that they can drill for oil and gas,” she said in her statement, “and my people knew nothing or were not told of the effects of the odor or methane.”

Some sites, she said, were set up within a few feet of homes; people were getting sick. At one point overcome with tears, Joe told the panel that she fears for her children’s and grandchildren’s future.

“Our young children play outdoors, and they stand the greatest health risk from air pollution because their lungs are still developing. The risk of asthma is great and causes them to miss school. Our pregnant women will have problems with their unborn babies,” she said. “The oil and gas industry must take responsibility for their pollution rather than asking the public and our environment to bear the burden.”

Long, who attends Cheviot United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, is a United Methodist Women “Be Just. Be Green” guide for the North Central Jurisdiction. In that role she travels throughout the jurisdiction offering education, resources and training for local United Methodist Women on becoming more environmentally responsible.

A retired educator, Long said it was “shortsighted and harmful” to Ohioans to allow Scott Pruitt, EPA’s chief administrator, to “roll back these protections.” The EPA made “an excellent decision,” she said, when it began requiring new oil and gas facilities to use proven and cost-effective measures to stop the leaks of methane and other harmful chemicals from these wells.

“The longer I taught,” she told the EPA panel, “the more children I encountered each year with problems, and the problems were getting worse: cancer, diabetes, asthma, ADHD, Asperger’s. I began to wonder what was causing the increase and causing so many children to suffer.” No one, she said, had answers.

“I’m not willing to have even one of those children die too young from a disease or disorder caused by methane that has leaked into and contaminated their air or their drinking water,” she said. “I’m not sure oil and gas companies, and lobbyists, and members of Congress, and perhaps the EPA, feel the same way. I’m afraid that in many cases, profits are more important than people.”

The Rev. Erik Alsgaard is managing editor for the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Posted or updated: 12/5/2017 12:00:00 AM