GOP Senators Question Inspector General's Right To Probe Fracking

The Environmnental Protection Agency's inspector general defended Friday his right to investigate pollution risks from hydraulic fracturing, after a posse of Republican senators from petroleum-rich states questioned his authority.
Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, Thomas Coburn and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and David Vitter of Louisiana sent a letter in May to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins asking why he was investigating fracking instead of investigating the EPA itself.
"The Obama Administration's insistent attempt to link hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination in an effort to satisfy radical activists and justify greater federal regulations on the oil and gas industry is not only improperly motivated, but it is an example of the waste and abuse of government resources that is the OIG's very mission to expose and protect against," the senators wrote.
"As such, the fact that the EPA OIG is now inserting itself into the debate further calls into question your independence from the agency."
Elkins responded Friday with a letter to each of the senators:
"The review is consistent with the OIG's responsibilities to oversee the programs of the EPA," Elkins writes. "The OIG has the discretion to independently review matters it believes are in the scope of its authority. Evaluating these issues does not presume that there are or are not deficiencies in existing regulations of states' management of this area."
By Elkins' own definition, "the mandated functions and discretionary authorities of the OIG are to promote economy, efficiency and effectiveness; and to detect waste, fraud and abuse through independent oversight of the EPA's programs and operations."
Then why investigate fracking? "To determine whether the EPA is effectively and efficiently managing the environmental and health risks to drinking water and surface water," according to the OIG's Annual Plan for fiscal year 2014.
Among the questions posed by the senators: Why is the OIG contacting environmental groups, and which ones?
"Our purpose in meeting with environmental groups is to determine what their views are of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing and the management of the impacts," Elkins replies.
"We have contacted four groups: Earthworks, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, the Environmental D.efense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The OIG contacted these groups because they have expressed knowledgeable views and opinions about the topics we are reviewing. We have also met with the American Natural Gas Association, the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America."
The senators have not always been so skeptical of OIG authority. Last year at the request of six senators the OIG investigated the EPA's response to a Parker, Texas homeowner's complaint that a nearby gas well was polluting drinking water. The EPA issued an emergency order against the Range Resources Gas Drilling Company, ordering Range Resources to research the source and extent of contamination, provide drinking water to affected residents, and develop a plan to mitigate contamination in the aquifer.
The OIG investigated at the senators' request and found that the EPA had acted appropriately in that case.
In their most recent letter, the four senators said that investigation made them suspicious of the OIG. Even before that investigation ended, the OIG had begun its independent investigation of pollution risks from fracking.
The full question-and-answer exchange between the senators and Elkins can be read here (pdf).
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