— From Staff, Wire and Online Reports
WASHINGTON D.C. – The fight over environmental regulations in Texas rang out at a congressional hearing Wednesday, with Republicans and Democrats airing sharp disagreements over the proper federal role in controlling pollution.
“The devastating impact of EPA’s overreach can be felt from statehouses to farmhouses across the nation,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. “EPA’s regulatory ambitions threaten states’ rights and intrude on the everyday lives of our citizens.”
The all-Texas panel of witnesses – most of them invited by Republicans who control the committee – largely favored an easing of federal regulations.
Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter, Farm Bureau president Kenneth Dierschke and Commission on Environmental Quality Chairman Bryan Shaw lambasted the Environmental Protection Agency for meddling. The other two witnesses were a health scientist supporting the EPA and an economist from Southern Methodist University’s Maguire Energy Institute who echoed criticism of the agency.
Porter blasted the EPA for what terms the agency’s overreach in its handling of reported water contamination in a subdivision in south Parker County that began in 2010 with Steve Lipsky’s complaints and lawsuit against a Fort Worth-based well drilling company.
“Nothing exemplifies the severe incompetence and blatant disregard for sound science as well as EPA’s infamous mishandling of the Range Resources case in Parker County, Texas,” said Porter, as reported by Texas Tribune.
The EPA issued, then later withdrew, an emergency order against Range that charged the company with contaminating two wells. An internal watchdog agency found the EPA was legally justified in its decisions on the case.
Lipsky, who on Saturday hosted an open house to make his case about his claims of high levels of gas in his well water that included a demonstration of lighting the water on fire, and “Gasland” movie director Josh Fox attended Wednesday’s hearing.
“I’m scared that if we keep doing this, we might go over a cliff,” The Tribune quoted Lipsky as saying in regards to loosening regulations. “In the end, the truth is on my side and the science is on my side, but there’s a lot of money on their side.”
Porter has cast doubt on Lipsky’s claims of being able to ignite his water.
The Texas Railroad Commission is now investigating at least nine new water contamination complaints in the same area and a report is expected later this month. Recently a consortium of 200 groups formally requested the EPA reopen its investigation into the Parker County water contamination reports.
The committee’s senior Democrat, Dallas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, pushed back against a “misguided and disingenuous war on the dedicated scientists and public servants of the EPA.”
The Democrats’ invited witness, health scientist Elena Craft, warned that 15 million Texans breathe air that fails to meet federal ozone standards.
Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, the former committee chairman, said he is “embarrassed” that lawmakers gave the EPA any oversight powers. He argued that many proposed regulations stem from “faulty science.”
Fort Worth Democratic Rep. Marc Veasey questioned whether the state’s unwillingness to work with the agency to regulate greenhouse gas permits hampered job creation. Initially, Texas refused to enforce the regulations, forcing the EPA to step in.
This week, the EPA agreed to relinquish permitting authority back to the state.
“The delay in the permitting process has put about 48,000 jobs at risk,” Veasey said. “Wouldn’t it have been better for Texas to work with the EPA?”
The Obama administration’s EPA has tussled with Texas’ Republican leaders for years. Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have complained about aggressive federal enforcement. One of Texas’ many legal battles against the administration, Texas vs. EPA, is set to see its day at the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 24.