Methane Testimony: Rev. Bill Thwing

31664_10150197269130105_5950125_nGood morning, my name is William Thwing, I am a pastor in Johnstown, PA, a  founding member and former officer of both the Pennsylvania Council of Churches interfaith Climate Change Campaign and Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light. I offered testimony at two earlier EPA Methane Hearings and my testimony today is an extension of those previous testimonies.

We would like to thank the EPA for holding these public hearings and commend you for the for the progress you have made since 2012 in inventorying methane emissions nationally from bottom-up and monitoring them from top-down,  and for devising programs that should help to reduce  free methane in the atmosphere and for your leadership in the international community helping other nations to inventory and reduce methane emissions thru programs such as the CCAC Municipal Waste Initiative, Agriculture initiative, Oil and gas Methane Partnership and the Global Methane Initiative.  Thank you.

We also wish to remind you that many of these programs are voluntary and that particularly in the oil and gas industry sector which produces an estimated 30% of all fugitive methane and VOCs in the atmosphere, voluntary programs are – as Shakespeare once said – “ honored more in the breach than in the commission”.  Although emission cutting technologies have been around for years, as have common sense solutions like regularly checking for leaks, many companies simply don’t bother to take advantage of these cost effective opportunities and continue to dump an estimated 9 million tons of methane and other toxic chemicals like benzene into our air each year – enough to heat  more than 5 million homes.  Not only is this careless and easily preventable waste of a valuable commodity but it contributes significantly to health problems like respiratory diseases and cancer not only among oil and gas industry employees but also in neighboring communities where some of our most vulnerable citizens –  like children, the elderly and the people who can least afford it are subjected to the  millions of dollars in unnecessary healthcare costs each year.

In the 2014 “Climate Action Plan’s Strategy to Reduce Methane” Report which you provided as a resource,  it states that the global warming effect of methane is “20 times greater per ton than CO2”.  As I understand it,  that is in the 100 year time frame.  However, in the 20 year time frame, free methane is somewhere between 70 and 100 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.  We don’t have 100 years to solve the accelerating climate change problem.  It has to be solved in the next 20 or 25 years.  My own faith tradition, the United Church of Christ, has called for a complete transition away from all fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2040 – that’s only 25 years from now.  Many US and European religious denominations have called for divestment from fossil fuel stocks because to own these stocks is to participate in the undermining of our national security,  and to jeopardize viability of human civilization  and to exacerbate extinction of many species and even perhaps threaten all life our God given planet.

Methane has an important role to play as a bridge fuel in this hoped for rapid transition to renewable energy because it burns cleaner than coal or oil. Yet plans are being announced daily in our media for multibillion dollar pipelines that will be built to ship natural gas all over this country and to coastal terminals for export to Europe and the Pacific Rim. That’s absurd.. and frankly… In my view, evil. Once we have put in place strictly enforced best practices for handling methane and minimizing leaks, we should burn it to make electricity as close to the extraction source as possible. We should be building infrastructure for delivering electricity not leaky multibillion dollar pipelines for delivering natural gas itself.  We should be converting coal burning power plants to gas burning power plants which are  located near source of the methane. Then, when we run out of methane, which according to DOE reports is already happening in many of our American Gas Plays  if we still need to depend upon fossil fuel for energy…  perhaps, if we can get the engineering right, we can convert our gas burning power plants to coal burning plants, burn coal again and ship the CO2 emissions back thru the very same pipelines were used to transport methane from the wellhead to the power plant, and sequester it deep underground where it came from in the first place.  Meanwhile we can take all of those billions of dollars in capital which would have been wasted on unnecessary natural gas infrastructure, and use it to build the renewable energy economy which we so desperately need to avert the collapse of our civilization and  our ecological systems.  The simplest, quickest most transparent, most economical way to implement this transition is thru sound energy policy and, hopefully thru a progressive free market Carbon Fee and Dividend system like the one being promoted  by the Citizens Climate Lobby. We commend it for your consideration.   Thank you