WASHINGTON — The Obama administration was flooded with one million comments on its proposed rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal lands with environmentalists supporting the actions but opponents projecting it would cost billions of dollars.
Bloomberg reports that the majority of the comments supporting the government’s new rules were actually mass mailings of form letters written by environmental groups – an activity known as “AstroTurf lobbying” because the letters are manufactured as opposed to being part of a “grassroots” effort.
The scheme used by special interest groups to affect public policy is to manufacture a handful of form letters, sign individual names on thousands of copies — most often without the person’s knowledge — and then flood a federal agency’s mailbox with the forms to indicate support or opposition to new regulations.
In past cases involving proposed federal regulations, the names signed on form letters were dead people.
In the case of the fracking rule now under consideration, environmentalists told the Interior Department (DOI) that the regulations are needed to prevent development from occurring miles away from national parks, to disclose chemicals used in the process, and restrict some uses of water.
Opponents of the rules, including the Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Association of America, says it duplicates regulation powers already used by states where the activity occurs.
Industry officials predict the new bureaucracy and the multitude of rules it creates would cost as much as $2.7 billion a year for them to comply, extravagantly higher than the government’s projection that the new duties would cost $12 million to $20 million a year.
However, since the process began last year to revamp industry rules, the Interior Department in charge of the effort has failed to enumerate the benefits of any of the proposed rules. The government is only required to conduct an economic assessment if the cost to implement the rules exceeds $100 million.
“The Interior Department cannot point to a single instance of an environmental problem from hydraulic fracturing,” said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance. “DOI cannot demonstrate that states are not adequately regulating or that federal regulation is more effective.”
“DOI already struggles to meet its current obligations, and has neither the resources nor the expertise to implement this very prescriptive, complex rule,” Sgamma said. “The rule will further disadvantage the West, as development, jobs, and economic activity will continue to migrate to areas without federal lands.”
Colorado Republican lawmakers have been vocal about their opposition to the rules during several hearings on Capitol Hill, and say the federal rules would not take into account each state’s unique geology and hydrology.
Rep. Doug Lamborn chaired a hearing last month and said the new regulations are a “big government solution” to problems that do no exist and would weaken the energy industry.
“While the administration claims these regulations are meant as a baseline, the reality is these burdensome and duplicative regulations could significantly inhibit hydraulic fracturing on federal land, thereby inhibiting energy production, American job creation, and continuing our dependence on foreign energy imports,” Lamborn said.