Why Rust Belt states are tackling methane when Trump won't


A worker checks equipment for methane leaks.

Nobody raises an eyebrow when California takes steps to rein in air pollution – but what’s going on when conservative-leaning Rust Belt states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania are doing the same?

At a time when the Trump administration and Congress seek to scale back federal rules targeting methane emissions from energy production, a growing number of states that swung in favor of Trump in 2016 are heading in the opposite direction.

It reminds us that states that recognize good policy still have the power to act, regardless of who controls Washington. Ohio and Pennsylvania, now following in the footsteps of Colorado, Wyoming and California, are the latest examples of this.

Ohio: Pragmatic governor had a smart idea

States have different reasons for targeting methane leaks, even if they tend to draw the same conclusion at the end of the day: Methane mitigation is good for the environment and for companies on which tens of thousands of American jobs depend.

This was Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s pitch when he proposed common-sense steps the Buckeye State could take to rein in oil and gas pollution.

Kasich was able to avoid major opposition to the measure by pointing to environmental and political problems other states were experiencing as a result of their inaction, and by showing that it was in Ohio’s and its industry’s best interest to get ahead of the curve.

“We’re going to have to have some additional regulation to make sure that industry stays safe,” he told the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in 2014.

That year, the state required companies to reduce leaks at well sites. In February 2017, Ohio expanded these requirements to also cover compressor and transmission stations – the facilities that help push gas through the pipeline, and that account for about one-third of the industry’s total methane leakage.

The results of Ohio’s policies so far?

Companies, which must now check their equipment for gas leaks at new or modified equipment once a quarter, have complied and gone about their business. At the same time, new jobs are cropping up in a whole new industry focused on detecting and capping methane leaks.  

Pennsylvania: Public outcry prompted action

Across the state border in the Keystone State, public concern over hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has already been growing for several years due to insufficient oversight.

Environmental violations at drill sites have been well-documented by the state; Pennsylvanians have been shocked by images of oil spills, leaking tanks and dead vegetation.

Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania is next in line to tackle methane waste. In January 2016, Gov. Tom Wolf announced his intent to adopt the toughest methane pollution rules in the nation.

While welcomed by many, the governor’s approach to reducing methane emissions has run into resistance in the state legislature as of late. Some politicians have apparently been swayed by misleading rhetoric about the costs of reducing gas leaks, and threats that environmental protections “kill jobs.”

All these lawmakers need to do, of course, is to peek across the border to Ohio, or call states out West that can attest that methane policies won’t hurt operators’ bottom line. They even spawn new job growth.

In fact, Pennsylvania and Ohio already count more than 40 companies that specialize in emission reduction and that provide high-paying service and manufacturing jobs to thousands of rust belt residents.

Americans don’t like waste

It’s estimated that oil and gas companies lose some $2 billion a year in product. Such waste doesn’t sit well with hardworking Americans trying to make ends meet, especially when it only costs companies about a penny per unit of produced gas to reduce such pollution. 

The 2015 Aliso Canyon disaster grew public awareness of methane leaks. And lately, opposition has been growing out West against Trump’s move to abandon an Obama-era rule aimed at reducing such leaks from drill sites on federal lands.

It raises the question of how far Trump’s policies will reach before they run into resistance – even in states that delivered him the presidency.

Dan Grossman

Dan Grossman

Dan is the National Director of EDF's Oil & Gas state programs.



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