WASHINGTON -- Republicans in the House have been busy this week, passing three pieces of legislation that would help the natural gas industry by circumventing environmental regulations and making it easier to drill for and transport fossil fuels.
The bills, should they became law, would benefit the thriving domestic oil and gas industry. The sector is growing largely as a result of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process that involves injecting wells with a mix of water, sand and chemicals to release oil and gas trapped in rock. But many Democrats and environmentalists worry that the bills help the energy industry at the expense of the environment.
The House approved the first bill on Wednesday, a measure to expedite permitting for oil and gas drilling. Later in the day, the House also voted to prevent the Department of the Interior from implementing proposed rules that would require full disclosure of fracking chemicals, and would govern hydraulic fracturing on public lands. Both bills garnered around 10 Democratic votes.
Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) sponsored Wednesday's bill to block the Interior Department's rules for fracking on federal and Native American lands. The bill's supporters say the rules are unnecessary, as states often have their own fracking regulations or guidelines. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, argued that "imposing a 'one-size-fits-all' federal regulatory structure, as the Obama Administration is attempting to do, is both unnecessary and simply will not work."
The bill's critics say that many state regulations are too weak, and that strong federal regulations should take precedence. Courtney Abrams, federal clean water program director for advocacy group Environment America, called the bill "reckless" in a statement, arguing that the bill "puts our special places and the communities that rely on them for drinking water and recreation at risk from fracking."
House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) also attached a provision to the Flores bill that would modify the Environmental Protection Agency's ongoing study of fracking's effects on drinking water. "In its zeal to regulate, the EPA too often has rushed to link water contamination to hydraulic fracturing," Smith said in a statement after the bill passed, adding that the "legislation holds the EPA accountable by requiring the agency to provide context for any identified risks."
The other bill passed Wednesday came from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), and would speed up permitting for oil and gas drilling. Lamborn said the bill was meant to expand the domestic energy boom beyond state and private lands. "The only reason we haven't seen that same dynamic growth on federal lands is because of excess regulations," Lamborn told the Associated Press, in reference to energy development already underway in North Dakota, Montana, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
The third bill, passed mid-day Thursday, was the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.). The bill would compel regulators to issue rulings on natural gas pipeline permits more promptly. That bill passed with 26 Democratic votes, many from oil- and gas-producing states.
The Hill reports that Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) expressed concern that the pipeline permitting bill "may result in truncated or inadequate environmental analysis, which threatens the health and safety of communities these potentially hazardous pipelines run through."
The White House also expressed skepticism of the measure. "The bill's requirements could force agencies to make decisions based on incomplete information or information that may not be available within the stringent deadlines, and to deny applications that otherwise would have been approved, but for lack of sufficient review time," the White House said in a statement.