Senate Republicans are demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency’s watchdog back off its investigation into states’ ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The lawmakers say it’s another agency attempt to vilify the drilling technique.
In February, the EPA inspector general’s office announced it was conducting “preliminary research on the EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing.” The point of the IG’s inquiry was to see the weaknesses of state regulations, which Republicans said was another way for the agency to assert its own authority over fracking.
“The EPA has conducted a number of indisputably flawed and unscientific investigations attempting to link hydraulic fracturing to water contamination and has continued to come up empty handed,” Republican Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas wrote to the EPA IG’s office.
Republicans are chiefly concerned that the IG’s office has reached beyond its statutory authority in conducting this study because it has nothing to do with agency practices. Instead the IG’s office is looking into the adequacy of state regulations, which is outside of its authority.
“The OIG is reaching beyond its authority and considering a duplicative study which for the second time this year is attempting to further the false narrative that hydraulic fracturing is dangerous and states are somehow improperly managing some fabricated risks,” the Senators continued.
The IG’s mission is to “prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse…of the programs and operations of the Environmental Protection Agency” through “audits, evaluations, and investigations of EPA and its contractors.”
The Justice Department says that “Congress intended the Inspector General to be an objective official free from general regulatory responsibilities who investigated the employees and operations of the Department” and “thus, the Inspector General has an oversight rather than a direct role in investigations conducted pursuant to regulatory statutes.”
“He may investigate the Department’s conduct of regulatory investigations but may not conduct such investigations himself,” the DOJ noted.
Fracking involves injecting large amounts of water, sand and chemicals into underground shale formations to extract oil and natural gas. Environmentalists say the practice is environmentally destructive, but so far these claims have largely been unsubstantiated.
The EPA has already failed to link fracking to water contamination in three separate studies, and the agency is still in the middle of a multi-year study on the environmental impact of fracking. Other government agencies have examined the drilling practice and determined it was safe, argue Republicans.
“This flawed investigation only exacerbates our concerns with your latest efforts to link hydraulic fracturing to water resource contamination and subjectively examine the adequacy of state regulations,” they wrote to the EPA.
Republicans also argue that the IG’s office is pursuing this investigation during tight fiscal times which could limit the office’s ability to do its oversight work. IG Arthur Elkins, Jr. said in an interview with InsideEPA that “you can’t [do oversight] when you don’t have somebody in an office.”
“Using the funds already allocated to this particular project for a more worthwhile and appropriate investigation is an easy and sensible way to quickly free up vital resources and ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent by the OIG appropriately,” Republicans wrote.
“The OIG is reaching beyond its authority and attempting to justify wresting the current, successful control of fracturing out of the states’ hands,” Republicans added. “ We urge you to end this investigation and refocus any staff, funds, or resources associated with it to a more relevant and needed inquiry into fraud, abuse, and waste at the EPA, which is properly aligned with your mission.”
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