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'A Bad Signal': Fracking Opponents Have Policy Indicators in Their Corner

"Exempting rural housing loans from NEPA means that gas drilling leases will also be exempt from legal recourse and other basic public interest protections the law was meant to provide," Fox said. "It also means that when property values drop precipitously due to contamination from gas drilling, sometimes to as low as 10 percent of their original value as we’ve seen in Pennsylvania, the American taxpayer is going to be left holding the bag."

The Stop the Frack Attack movement has vowed to "make a special delivery to the American Petroleum Institute and American Natural Gas Alliance" during its D.C. march: "They say fracking is good for our water, we say nay and have the water to prove it!"

The event will begin with a "Multireligious Service for the Earth and Its People."

Yet while environmental groups balked over the Vilsack backtrack, Boren knows that there's definitely room for a shift back in the original direction of requiring environmental reviews -- especially when the USDA has promised to revisit the decision next year, after the election.

"I don't, frankly," Boren, who is not running for re-election, replied when asked whether he trusts the Obama administration to keep rural landowners insulated from the environmental reviews. "Let's say the administration stays in place; we need to make sure there's a lot of oversight over USDA both in the House and Senate to make sure they don't do something like this."

The USDA told PJM today that there has been no change in policy since the March memo to state directors that affirmed the loans' exclusion from NEPA reviews.

That directive, however, expires April 30, 2013.

Add that to the Interior Department heaping new regulations on federal-land fracking, air-quality regulations, and the "threat of the EPA taking over fracking -- we've got a lot of state-based regulation that's doing fine," Boren said.

"When the president comes out and says 'oh, we've increased production,' that's only in spite of the administration's policies," Boren said, noting the increase is on private land while production slows due to "very detrimental" policy on federal lands.

He credits President Obama's warmer public attitude toward the Keystone XL pipeline project and subsequent spring speech in Cushing, Okla., where the president embraced the southern portion of the pipeline, to polling data suggesting "this is the one vulnerable area for the president."

"I don't know who gave that advice to come to Oklahoma and say, 'yes, we're for the southern half,'" Boren said. "To me, that's just showing a weakness. Most people are smart enough to know that this pipeline is not just a half of a pipeline; it's a whole pipeline and we've got to have the whole thing connected to bring that oil."

Congressional energy advocates noted yesterday that there's a fresh urgency in approving the cross-border section of Keystone that runs from Canada to Cushing after China moved in on our northern neighbor's energy resources.

“China’s purchase of a Canadian energy producer is a big, big wake-up call, especially while the administration continues to stall our plan to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.). “China – the world’s second biggest economy– recognizes Canada’s energy resource potential, and they are making moves to get it. Completing the Keystone XL pipeline makes economic and security sense for the U.S. because it would bring enough supply from Canada to offset six percent of total U.S. daily oil imports – or the amount imported from Oman, Chad, Algeria and Iraq combined.”

Energy further takes the spotlight on Capitol Hill this week as Interior officials appear before the House Natural Resources Committee tomorrow to answer questions about Obama's Gulf drilling moratorium and as the House prepares to vote on a bill to replace Obama's five-year offshore drilling plan to allow for more generous lease sales.

The White House threatened yesterday to veto the bill.

In addition to bucking the plan that "incorporates lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," said the Office of Management and Budget in its statement of administration policy, "the bill also would establish unworkable deadlines and substantive and procedural limitations on important environmental review and other analysis that is critical to complying with laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Clean Water Act."

"Full compliance with these laws is important for the protection of citizens, communities, and the environment and is necessary in order to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation," said the OMB.