The House of Representatives this week passed three oil and gas development bills.
- HR 2728, the Promoting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act, prevents the Department of Interior’s (DOI) hydraulic fracturing rule from going in to effect.
- HR 1965, the Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act, forces sales of the people’s lands to the oil and gas industry while charging protesters $5,000 for their input.
- HR 1900, the Natural Gas Permitting Reform Act, undercuts local authorities and fast tracks more miles of pipelines through America's parks, playgrounds, and backyards.
Protecting Drillers from their Government
HR 2728 and HR 1900 really say opposite things about the role of the federal government in providing basic protections from irresponsible oil and gas development. HR 2728, as the title suggests, is on the side of the states. Supporters of this legislation argue that the states do the best job regulating drilling. The good news for them is that states already do most of the drilling regulating in this country. So, if you like your state regulation, you can keep it.
The reason states have such primacy over drilling is that the oil and gas industry enjoys broad exemptions from seven of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws. Only allowed to nip and tuck around the edges, the Federal Government has little authority to work with.
If One Government Doesn’t Work, Just Try Another
What HR 2728 takes away, HR 1900 gives back. HR 1900 increases federal power while subjugating state agencies and local zoning ordinances. HR 1900 amends Section 7h of the Natural Gas Act, which already allows pipeline builders power to seize private property through eminent domain- the ultimate big government power grab. Fast tracking more pipelines will exacerbate this federal versus state/local divide and continue to elevate eminent domain as a controversial wedge issue.
HR 1900 throws state and local wishes to the wayside by imposing on FERC an arbitrary deadline to review all interstate pipeline permit applications- regardless of whether it’s a ten-mile pipeline through barren desert or a thousand-mile pipeline through diverse ecosystems and populated areas. If FERC cannot meet the deadline, the pipeline gets automatically approved. The problem is that a good portion of the information FERC needs to make their decisions comes from state environmental agencies. FERC doesn't handle issues like water quality so they rely on the judgment of states to evaluate a pipeline's local environmental impacts. Either these agencies have specialized expertise or they don't. By deeming permit approval, HR 1900 disregards the state's input on behalf of their citizens that they are supposedly in such a better position to protect.
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
So, why did the supporters of the “states first” approach of HR 2728 favor the one-size-fits-all federal regulation of HR 1900? Because this was never about federalism. This was about an early holiday present for the oil and gas industry. If there’s any doubt just reflect on HR 1965’s provision allowing the drillers to hand pick a portion of the people’s lands DOI must sell them. The Obama Administration has issued veto threats for all three bills.