Wheels Coming Off: Former EPA Official Blows Whistle on Regulatory Exemption for Fracking


When a high-ranking George W. Bush-era EPA official starts blowing the whistle on the triumph of politics over the environment – confirming that a business-friendly “fracking exemption” went way too far – you begin to sense that the wheels are coming off the wagon for the energy-extraction industry. We’re seeing cracks in the armor as a groundswell of support for real regulation rolls toward Capitol Hill.

It won’t come as any surprise to BP spill victims that the oil and gas industry will put lives on the line to protect profits, but it’s sure shocking the rest of the country.

The latest defector is Benjamin Grumbles, the assistant administrator for water at the EPA during Bush II. In an interview with ProPublica, the non-profit journalism organization, it’s explained that Mr. Grumbles “…oversaw the release of a 2004 report that determined that hydraulic fracturing was safe for drinking water. Then he watched as Congress used those findings to bolster the case for a law that prohibited the EPA from regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

The ProPublica piece by Abrahm Lustgarten gives us a glimpse behind the political and regulatory curtain. And it’s not pretty – though Mr. Grumbles displays the diplomatic skills that must have served him well in a federal bureaucracy.

Knowing they had the votes in Congress to pass the exemption, the Bush team including V.P. Dick Cheney, got busy. So the word went out to the “professionals” at EPA. Says Grumbles: “…what came across clearly to the EPA was that the [Bush] administration did not want us to take a formal position of opposition to the exemption. It wasn’t so much a pressure. It was just very clear, here is the situation: EPA officials or career staff are not to take a position of opposition or support for the legislation.

And what did the feeble EPA do when it could no longer ignore the fact that diesel oil being used in the fracking process was, in fact, a major threat? Well, they asked nicely that the companies stop – because as we all know, voluntary programs are always effective with bringing Big Industry in line. Of course, the companies didn’t stop, and we’ll have to see how many people and how much land and water they poisoned along the way.

The ProPublica report is required reading for anybody who’s serious about holding the industry accountable for the way it handles the pollution it generates. The Q&A with Mr. Grumbles shines a light on how the process really works behind the scenes, and it’s still going on today.

The ProPublica piece and Ian Urbina’s bomb-dropping New York Times series are not just an indictment of the EPA under Bush, but of the entire system that – to our collective dismay – is still at work in the Gulf and across the country.

This big piece of the fracking puzzle is going viral on HuffPo: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/09/benjamin-grumbles-bush-epa-fracking_n_833781.html

For more information on “fracking” and related radiation issues, see our new Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Hydraulic-Fracturing-Support-Group/192748310749814?sk=info

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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