White House waves veto pen at GOP fracking, energy bills

The White House is threatening to veto House GOP bills that would thwart Interior Department hydraulic fracturing rules and force regulators to speed up oil and gas drilling permits.

In a pair of statements Tuesday morning, the White House slammed two GOP energy bills slated for votes this week, arguing that they would dismantle important environmental protections.

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The bill to block planned Interior Department regulation of the oil and gas extraction technique dubbed fracking would prevent Interior from ensuring that it occurs in a “safe and responsible manner,” the White House said.

“The bill, as reported, would undermine these efforts and instead require [Interior’s Bureau of Land Management] to defer to existing State regulations on hydraulic fracturing on Federal lands, regardless of the quality or comprehensiveness of the State regulations — thereby preventing consistent environmental protections,” the White House said of the bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas).

Interior is preparing rules, which would apply to fracking that occurs on federal and Indian lands, that force disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, and create standards around well integrity and management of so-called flowback water.

A second and broader bill on the floor this week would set new deadlines for issuing drilling permits; set a floor on the amount of land offered for oil and gas leases; and charge activists thousands of dollars in fees to lodge formal protests of leases and permits, among other provisions.

“[The bill] would reverse Administration oil and gas leasing reforms that have established orderly, open, efficient, and environmentally sound processes for energy development on public lands.  Specifically, this bill would favor an arbitrary standard for leasing in open areas over leasing on the basis of greatest resource potential; limit the public's opportunity to engage in decisions about the use of public lands; raise the potential for costly litigation, protests, and delays; strip the ability of the Department of the Interior to issue permits to drill based on important environmental reviews, clearances and tribal consultation; and curtail the use of public lands for other uses like hunting, fishing, and recreation,” the White House said of Rep. Doug Lamborn’s (R-Colo.) bill.

Lamborn’s bill is on the floor Tuesday, and the fracking measure will receive votes later in the week.

The bills will likely pass the House but face long odds in the Senate.

The bills and the White House criticism are the latest thrust and parry in longstanding political and policy battles between President Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans over energy.

Republicans say the White House keeps too many federal lands and waters off-limits to energy companies, and that the fracking regulations will impose burdensome red tape.

The floor debate will also feature Republicans trying to blunt White House efforts to politically capitalize on the nation’s oil and gas production surge.

Look for Republicans to point out that the boom has occurred largely on state and private lands.

But the White House statement against the Lamborn bill says the Obama administration has backed the nation’s oil and gas boom.

“H.R.1965 runs contrary to the Administration's commitment to promoting safe and responsible domestic oil and gas development as part of an energy strategy that reduces the Nation’s dependence on foreign oil by increasing domestic production and increasing the fuel economy of the country’s cars and trucks,” the White House said.

“Under the Administration’s strategy, the United States now produces more oil at home than the Nation buys from other countries for the first time in nearly two decades,” it said.

— This post was updated at 9:18 a.m.