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Senate GOPs: Report ‘Will Cast a Shadow’ Over EPA’s Inspector General

In dispute are actions taken by EPA’s Region 6 against a natural gas company after receiving a complaint from a Texas homeowner.

by
Bill Straub

Bio

March 3, 2014 - 12:00 am

WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans are once again voicing displeasure over the performance of the inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency, this time over steps taken to regulate a firm conducting hydraulic fracturing in Texas.

Seven GOP lawmakers, led by Sen. David Vitter, of Louisiana, dispatched a letter to Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. on Wednesday, expressing disdain for his conclusions related to EPA’s interaction with Range Resources, an independent natural gas company located in Ft. Worth, Texas.

“There are a number of concerns that we have with the quality and integrity of this report which until corrected will cast a shadow over any future work from the OIG,” the group said. “It appears that this report is neither comprehensive nor unbiased and we expect your prompt and thorough attention to addressing its serious flaws.”

In dispute are actions taken by EPA’s Region 6 against Range Resources after it received a complaint from a homeowner in Parker County, Texas, in August 2010.

The homeowner said his water well had been contaminated with natural gas to the point that he could set his drinking water on fire. He indicated that he had contacted the state but they had not resolved the issue.

Region 6 conducted tests and identified a nearby gas production well as a potential source. The agency advised residents at two homes in the area to discontinue use of the well water because of high methane and benzene levels. It found that a gas production well owned by Range Resources caused or contributed to the groundwater contamination.

Texas authorities, however, disputed the results and would continue their own investigation. Range Resources, meanwhile, declined to meet with the region and indicated that they would be working with state officials to investigate and resolve the issue.

Dissatisfied with the response, the EPA decided to move under the Safe Drinking Water Act, ordering Range Resources to conduct research on the source and extent of contamination, provide drinking water to affected residents and develop a plan to mitigate contamination in the aquifer.

Range Resources refused to fully comply and instituted legal action against the EPA. The agency subsequently withdrew the order after what Vitter described as “overwhelming criticism from state officials, members of Congress and stakeholders,” reaching a nonbinding agreement with Range Resources for additional well testing.

Six senators from within District 6 asked Elkins to look into EPA’s actions. In a report issued on Dec. 20, 2013, the inspector general concluded that the agency “conformed to agency guidelines, regulations and policy” in its handling of the dispute and that its “interactions with state officials situation for evidence of and other stakeholders were appropriate.”

“The EPA reached an agreement whereby Range Resources agreed to test 20 water wells every three months for a year to provide information about the presence of more widespread contamination,” Elkins said. “According to the EPA, the sampling that Range Resources has completed indicates no widespread methane contamination of concern in the wells that were sampled in Parker County. However, the EPA lacks quality assurance information for the Range Resources’ sampling program, and questions remain about the contamination.”

The GOP lawmakers maintain the EPA acted improperly toward Range Resources and that the agency “utilized the unsupported claims, including ‘houses could explode’, in order to instill fear and justify further burdensome regulations over hydraulic fracturing.”

“When your office finally issued the report after numerous and significant delays, it was clear to us that the OIG disregarded an abundance of evidence showing that facts were manipulated, conclusions were unjustified, science was ignored, and EPA colluded with radical environmental groups,” the senators said in the letter. “The lack of specificity and detail in this report is both disappointing and troubling, and the OIG failed to incorporate clearly delineated facts, evidence, and details in substantiating a majority of the report’s conclusions, most of which serve as a rubber stamping of EPA’s actions.”

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Vitter, have been engaged in an ongoing battle with Elkins over inspector general reports they have found lacking.

Last week committee Republicans complained about an OIG finding that exonerated the EPA for using unofficial email addresses to hide their dealings from public scrutiny. Vitter charged that probe was not only insufficient but that it was conducted in a manner “that inappropriately provided cover for EPA’s problematic email practice.”

Vitter expressed concern over the scope of the OIG investigation, cited flaws in the office’s methodology and maintained investigators arrived at questionable conclusions despite evidence to the contrary.

On Feb. 18, Vitter released a report asserting that Elkins had “failed Congress in recent investigations.”

“It is incredibly disappointing to have to question the independence of the EPA Office of the Inspector General,” Vitter said. “After months of frustrating Congressional oversight of the agency, the OIG has left too many questions unanswered in the aftermath of the John Beale investigation. I can only suspect that the office has abandoned its pledge to Congress to minimize waste, fraud, and abuse at the EPA.”

Beale was the EPA climate change expert who told his bosses that he was a CIA spy working in Pakistan, a position that kept him from fulfilling his duties at the agency. He pled guilty to bilking the government out of nearly $1 million in salary and other benefits over a decade.

Washington freelancer Bill Straub is former White House correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service.

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All Comments   (8)
All Comments   (8)
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I live one or two counties away from the places having the problems. Those folks are stirred up and looking for some action. They've already been down to Austin to talk to the Railroad Commission about their problems.

There is no question that something has happened and is causing dozens to hundreds of small earthquakes (2-4 on the Richter scale, enough to be felt) over a two county area. Complaints of gas in the tap water and firey water have also been lodged. If these complaints spread, I think they will, they will have to deal with the problem or settle it up some way.
24 weeks ago
24 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's for the children...
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Right! And you just wait and see -- the "Republicans" are going to talk about this for a long time. That's all folks.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
How does methane drilled 6,000 feet deep get into wells that are 100 ft deep and and aquifer that is 500 ft deep?
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Senator David Vitter recieved over $500,000 that he reported in the last five years from the oil and gas industry. That may be enough to influence his actions and fuel some of his outrage.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't forget that the head of the EPA's Region 6, Al Armendariz, had to resign in 2012 over comments he made two years earlier, saying he planned to 'crucify' the region's oil and gas industry ( http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/04/30/top-epa-official-resigns-after-crucify-comment/ ).

Armendariz may be gone, but the overall mindset of the Region 6 EPA remains, where companies are guilty until proven innocent of everything from water pollution to causing earthquakes (Texas is studying the latter in roughly the same area of Parker County, but they're not try to proactively curtail drilling activity in the area because people claim it's causing earthquakes).
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
In order to cast the fabled shadow any report would need the help of mainstream media and press and I cannot bring myself to accept that any member of the GOP actually thinks that will happen so setting aside the damning particulars of the report, making claims of its expected impact reeks of election year posturing and nothing more.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
It seems as though you believe that any republican foot-stomping and hand-wringing over abuse at the EPA smacks of posturing because the media won't report the abuses. Perhaps if the repubs are quiet the EPA will stop abusing its power, and the MSM can continue reporting nothing.
25 weeks ago
25 weeks ago Link To Comment
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