Voluntary Environmental Standards Don’t Work

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Officially, natural gas drillers are already complying with the EPA’s plan banning frack water from being sent to municipal water treatment plants, which aren’t equipped to clean those kinds of toins. But they still don’t want those regulations to become official, and would rather keep going with the handshake agreement they struck with Tom Corbett, reports Jon Hurdle:

The U.S. EPA’s plan to prevent municipal water treatment plants from accepting fracking waste is being hailed by supporters as a necessary safeguard against the contamination of public water supplies, and attacked by the petroleum industry as a short-sighted measure that ignores its long-term needs and violates the Clean Water Act […]

“Under current rules, oil and gas companies are permitted to send millions of gallons of toxic waste water to sewage treatment plants,” [17th District Congressman Matt] Cartwright said.

He said the practice stopped in Pennsylvania – where 15 facilities previously accepted fracking waste — after an agreement between the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett and the gas industry, and the EPA seeks to apply the same principle with the new rule […]

Although the industry currently doesn’t use public water-treatment plants, it would like the option of doing so in future, [IPAA executive vice president Lee] Fuller said.

Here is probably the most important paragraph of Hurdle’s article.:

Although the natural gas industry does not currently send fracking waste to municipal plants, it has done so in the past, and some plants continue to receive such requests from gas companies, so the rule is designed to prevent any resumption of that practice, the EPA said when publishing the rule in March.

Voluntary standards don’t work. There’s a handshake agreement, but gas companies keep approaching municipal plants about it anyway. And given the relative pittance we spend on enforcing the laws, who knows whether anybody’s honoring the hand shake?

You see the industry making the same arguments around methane emissions too. Tom Wolf committed to regulating methane during the 2014 campaign, and now the oil and gas companies’ position is that we can totally trust them to control methane on their own with voluntary standards, without passing any new regulations.

There’s no evidence this works, but there is good evidence that rules work. When the EPA’s new air quality rules went into effect regulating some types of methane emissions, emissions went down. But unregulated sources account for most of the methane emissions, and emissions from these sources have been increasing.

The bottom line is, in all these cases we need actual rules to hold extractive industries accountable, not handshakes with two fingers crossed behind the back.

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