I recently joined with more than 30 other members of the Natural Gas Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives to send an important letter to the Secretary of the Department of Interior. The letter expressed to Secretary Salazar our concern about a possible plan to impose on federal lands new regulations on hydraulic fracturing, a process designed to safely and efficiently extract natural gas. New restrictions on this process would cost jobs, hurt our economy, and affect us all as consumers.
Our letter reminded the Secretary that the House Appropriations Conference Committee recently ordered a study focused on the hydraulic fracturing process. In response, the EPA has issued voluntary information requests to hydraulic fracturing service providers, and has yet to gather or review the data necessary to complete the Congressionally-directed study. We urged Secretary Salazar not to institute any new regulatory burdens before completion of the study – but we are worried he will prematurely mandate burdensome regulations that are arbitrary and not based on scientific data.
This issue appears to be part of an alarming pattern of overreach by the current administration in which it seeks to impose, via executive branch regulation, what Congress has been unwilling to do legislatively. Here is a case in which Congress has considered a particular issue and has begun the process of determining a proper course of action. A study has been commissioned, and the EPA has begun gathering data. But rather than allow the legislative process to run its course, the administration seems prepared to act on its own, circumventing the lawmaking process.
This same sort of regulatory overreach from the Obama Administration is being seen in a number of other areas throughout our struggling economy and here in Utah, further hampering job creation and prosperity.
For example, the Department of Interior recently announced a new "wildlands" policy that implements a sweeping new wilderness policy without congressional input. This new proposal could set aside vast areas of the American West as de-facto wilderness, significantly impacting western economies and rural communities which depend on multiple-use access to federal lands.
In another case, the State of Utah is currently engaged with other states in a lawsuit against EPA contesting its plan to impose restrictive regulations on carbon dioxide emissions that are clearly beyond the intent and scope of the Clean Air Act. Like restrictions on hydraulic fracturing, EPA's planned CO2 regulations will cost money and jobs, and will raise energy costs on already strained families and small businesses. An elected Congress has been unwilling to impose the onerous burdens that unelected bureaucrats are now preparing to dictate.
Hydraulic fracturing appears to be the only feasible method available to extract most of America's supply of clean burning natural gas and has safely and successfully helped America meet its growing energy needs for decades. Hydraulic fracturing is not a drilling practice that emerged overnight. It was invented 60 years ago and has been safely used to create more than 1 million wells here in America to produce natural gas, essential for heating homes and providing energy to our industries.
We asked the Secretary to recognize that the vast majority of scientific evidence shows hydraulic fracturing to be safe and less resource-intensive for the environment than traditional methods, and properly managed and regulated at the state level. Hastily proposed regulatory burdens on natural gas will increase energy costs for consumers, suppress job creation in a promising energy sector and hinder our nation's ability to become more energy independent.
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Citizens are generally aware of most of Congress' actions (or inactions). Elections, for example, are public and well publicized. But too often, the actions of executive branch regulators affect American families and businesses in relative obscurity and with insufficient accountability. Last November, voters sent a message about excessive government spending, regulation and taxation, and their dissatisfaction with a faltering economy. Congress heard that message; it appears that the administration and its agencies did not.
It's the responsibility of Congress to ensure that the regulatory and legislative landscape governing development of our natural gas resources is favorable and encouraging, rather than restrictive and obstructive. Natural gas presents an opportunity to help secure our energy future - an opportunity we must not squander.
Rob Bishop, a Republican, represents Utah's 1st congressional district.