Each year, billions of cubic feet of natural gas -- enough to heat more than six million American homes -- are directly released or leaked by the energy sector into the atmosphere, wasting a valuable energy resource, threatening the health of our communities, and accelerating the impacts of climate change.
The EPA recently took a significant step forward to rein in emissions from methane (the primary component of natural gas) by setting a reduction target and guidelines to help the energy sector deploy available technologies and improve practices at new methane-emitting facilities (our statement outlines support for this bold move).
States across the country are ahead of the curve when it comes to reasonable programs to limit methane emissions in the energy sector, and we're already seeing good outcomes for workers, communities, and businesses from strong methane policies in states like Colorado and California. But EPA's proposed standards will help all states deploy best practices and technologies to combat unnecessary waste and pollution.
While this week's announcement is promising, there are other sources of methane waste that need to be addressed if we want to keep natural gas in the system producing energy -- rather than spilling into the air we breathe. Existing facilities are often the worst emitters and need oversight, as well. In addition, there are more than 100,000 miles of leak-prone natural gas distribution pipes under our cities -- many dating back to the 19th century -- that leak natural gas at more than 50 times the rate of advanced pipe materials available and in use today.
Not only do these old pipes waste gas, which consumers and businesses often end up paying for, but uncombusted methane has at least 25 times the climate change impact as the same amount of carbon dioxide over a century. The labor unions of the BlueGreen Alliance (a partnership of 10 national labor unions and 5 environmental organizations), whose members work throughout the natural gas industry, know firsthand that keeping gas in the system -- including distribution networks delivering gas to our homes and businesses -- means safer workplaces and a better environment for their families and communities. Every day, they work diligently toward that end.
Therein lies economic opportunity. Last year, we released a report outlining the benefits to consumers, workers, and communities that are achievable if we were to accelerate natural gas distribution system upgrades. On average, it could take 30 years or longer to replace and repair the most vulnerable segments of the natural gas pipes under America's cities and towns. Speeding that timeline up to a decade, which is achievable using current policy and finance mechanisms, would spur:
• $30 billion in GDP growth over 10 years;
• More than 250,000 more jobs created throughout the economy;
• Consumer and business savings of $1.5 billion of gas otherwise wasted;
• Prevention of an additional 81 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution (akin to taking 17 million cars off the road for an entire year).
Reducing leaks in our natural gas distribution networks, along with broader efforts to keep gas in the system throughout the energy sector, offer ways to grow our economy and make it more efficient. American workers are already developing, manufacturing, and implementing technologies that prevent leaks and venting -- creating high-quality jobs and stimulating local economies -- all while reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. Reaching the administration's economy-wide goal of reducing methane emissions up to 45 percent over 10 years will ensure these technologies and practices are deployed at an even greater scale.
Coupling the EPA's proposal with potential to upgrade the gas distribution networks serving our cities and towns, and preventing methane waste and leaks at existing energy facilities, provides wins all around -- employing American workers in safer workplaces, conserving energy resources, ensuring cleaner air, and averting climate change impact. On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of our labor union and environmental partners, the BlueGreen Alliance lauds this important step forward, and will continue working to keep natural gas in the system.