Rep. Maloney Struggles for Facts at JEC Hearing

Even as key sectors across much of the U.S. economy continue to struggle, the U.S. oil and gas economy continues to generate much-needed and well-timed jobs, revenue and opportunity for the American people. That was the major take-away from a hearing of the Joint Economic Committee earlier this week, where members of the House and Senate heard from a variety of experts testifying to the transformative phenomenon that responsible shale development has been, and will continue to be, for this country.

Unfortunately, not everyone handles good news in the best way. Take Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) for instance. Ms. Maloney happens to come from a state that uses more natural gas than any east of the Mississippi, allowing New York to claim and retain the status as the state with the lowest per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide, according to EIA. Certainly Ms. Maloney must know that, and certainly she must have mentioned it as part of the questions she asked of the panel this week. Right?

Actually, no. Instead, Ms. Maloney used most of her question-and-answer time to engage in strange soliloquies about the apparent lack of federal regulation governing the oil and gas development process – notwithstanding that opposite being the objective and verifiable case. Below, we capture some of Ms. Maloney’s zaniest questions/statements, and see what we can do to bring her up to speed with the facts:

Maloney: “Most of the fracking and other activities are exempt from important federal protections Congress passed such as the Clean Water Act. So we cant go in and enforce clean water protections that we have in other areas because this is specifically exempt.”

FACT: Oil and gas producers are not exempt from federal laws. Period. Full stop. According to a September 2012 Government Accountability Office report, oil and gas operators comply with no fewer than eight federal regulations—including the Clean Water Act (CWA). As the report states,

“As with conventional oil and gas development, requirements from eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to unconventional oil and gas development. For example, the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulates discharges of pollutants into surface waters.  Among other things, CWA requires oil and gas well site operators to obtain permits for discharges of produced water – which includes fluids used for hydraulic fracturing, as well as water the occurs naturally in oil- or gas-bearing formations – to surface waters.  In addition, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) governs the management and disposal of hazardous wastes, among other things.”

Maloney: “Why should fracking be exempt from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and more?”

FACT: Oil and gas producers are not exempt from the Clean Air Act; oil and gas wells cannot be drilled or operated without operators having to comply with multiple components of the Clean Air Act. Provisions that apply to oil and natural gas production include emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants under what’s known as the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) as well as the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS).

In April 2012, new amendments were added to the both NESHAP and NSPS that included limits on volatile organic compounds (VOC) and benzene emissions from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells. In addition, a 2012 review of regulations applying to unconventional oil and gas development, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that the U.S. EPA “retains oversight and enforcement authority” under the Clean Air Act, even where states implement some of the Act’s provisions.

As EID has noted on numerous occasions, oil and gas producers are highly regulated at the federal, state and sometimes local levels — sometimes (most of the times) at all these levels at once!

Maloney: Researchers have found that Americans living near these sites are more likely to develop respiratory illnesses, birth defects and other possible health problems.”

FACT: Ms. Maloney’s birth defect comment likely was pulled from a highly flawed study done by researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health, which has been widely criticized by the scientific community.

Among its critics is Dr. Larry Wolk, who is the Colorado Department of Public Health’s Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director and a former state pediatrician of the year.  When the Colorado School of Public Health study first came out, Dr. Wolk publicly rebuked, saying that “a reader of the study could easily be misled to become overly concerned.”  And just last month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) followed up with a full analysis: in the press release Dr. Wolk stated, “Our investigation looked at each reported case and concluded they are not linked to any common risk factors.”

State regulatory agencies in Colorado, Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have all studied emissions from well pads and concluded that there is no credible threat to public health. In fact, several studies have concluded that thanks to hydraulic fracturing and natural gas use, pollution is being rapidly reduced, which is a public health boon.  For instance, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently released its latest emissions inventory, which found that Pennsylvania — one of the most prolific oil and gas states — experienced a significant reduction in air emissions; these reductions represent “between $14 billion and $37 billion of annual public health benefit.”

It’s also very telling that the American Lung Association gave “A” grades for air quality to several North Dakota counties that are among the largest producers of Bakken shale oil.

The bottom line

Soon after the hearing, Ms. Maloney scurried back to her office to issue a press release declaring herself  “proud that my home state issued its moratorium on dangerous exploration until we can assure that the health and safety of local communities is protected.”

But take a closer look, and what you find is that all of the “evidence” that Ms. Maloney cited at the JEC hearing this week about fracking being “dangerous” and “unregulated” isn’t actually true – and has been thoroughly debunked as such.  Meanwhile, back in New York, her constituents continue to be “exempt” from the opportunities that millions of other Americans continue to reap from responsible shale development — not only the economic benefits, but the environmental ones too.

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