This is a tough time for New Mexican families as schools and businesses close, travel is curtailed and social interaction is limited due to the coronavirus pandemic. During this crisis, I feel fortunate to have the leadership of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, because of her swift response to protect our health.

The governor’s commitment to public health runs deep. Before coronavirus was a household word, she had been working on proposed rules to clean up harmful oil and gas air pollution that contributes to climate change and harms the health of our families.

Scientists have known for decades that air pollution increases the risk of lung infection, making people more susceptible to respiratory illness. This is especially true for children, older adults and those with underlying health conditions.

There’s never been a more important time to protect vulnerable New Mexicans from lung-damaging air pollution.

Right now, the Lujan Grisham administration is moving forward with its proposed methane rules, which would require oil and gas operators to monitor and limit air pollution from their operations. These rules would reduce air pollution, protecting our lungs from harmful pollution. Moms across New Mexico are supporting these protections from the oil and gas industry’s harmful methane and toxic air pollution that puts our families at risk.

Unlike some other top-producing oil and gas states, New Mexico has no requirements prohibiting methane, the main component of natural gas — and a major contributor to climate change — from polluting our air. Oil and gas companies in our state waste natural gas by deliberately burning it, releasing it into the air or simply by neglecting to fix leaky equipment. The latest methane research reveals that New Mexico’s oil and gas industry is wasting 1 million tons of methane every year — more than enough natural gas to meet the annual heating and cooking needs of every home in New Mexico.

Wherever methane from oil and gas activities is released, other harmful air pollutants are emitted also. This pollution puts the health of children and families at risk. There are close to 9,000 children younger than 5 living in San Juan County (home to New Mexico’s infamous methane hot spot), and more than 78 percent of these children live within one mile of an active oil or gas well.

In southeastern New Mexico, the numbers are equally striking: 80 percent of young children in Eddy County and 68 percent in Lea County also live within one mile of a well. These children are at risk of breathing harmful pollution due to their proximity to the wells. They need comprehensive standards that require the oil and gas industry to clean up its act.

Not only does methane come hand in hand with other harmful pollutants such as carcinogenic benzene, but when it’s released into the air, it contributes to forming ground-level ozone, or smog. Eddy, Lea, San Juan, Rio Arriba and Chavez Counties are home to 97 percent of the state’s oil and gas wells, and these counties are at risk of violating federal ozone standards of 70 parts per million.

New Mexico has the opportunity to be a leader by enacting the best methane rules in the nation — rules that prioritize public health, our families and their right to breathe clean air. I applaud Lujan Grisham’s commitment to protect public health and reduce methane waste and pollution.

Moms across the state know that what really matters right now amid this pandemic is the health and safety of our family, friends, community, state, country and world.

Celerah Hewes is New Mexico state coordinator for Moms Clean Air Force.

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