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EPA's Jackson Defends Budget Proposal, Fracking Study

Going to bat in support of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 2013 budget request of $8.344 billion before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Energy and Power, Environment and the Economy, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on Tuesday testified that the proposal focuses "on fulfilling EPA's core mission of protecting public health and the environment, while making the sacrifices and tough decisions that Americans across the country are making every day." She said the proposal represents an approximate $105 million trim from current funding levels.

Jackson also defended the agency's ongoing two-year study of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), while deferring on some of the questions from the lawmakers until the research is complete. In March 2010 the EPA began its study of the potential risks of fracking on water quality and public health. Environmentalists and some lawmakers contend that the chemicals used in fracking are a health risk, but producers say they are confident that the study -- if conducted objectively -- will show fracking to be safe (see Daily GPI, March 19, 2010).

"As I've mentioned before, natural gas is an important resource which is abundant in the United States, but we must make sure that the ways we extract it do not risk the safety of public water supplies," Jackson testified. "This budget continues EPA's ongoing congressionally directed hydraulic fracturing study, which we have taken great steps to ensure is independent, peer reviewed and based on strong and scientifically defensible data.

"Building on these ongoing efforts, this budget requests $14 million in total to work collaboratively with the United States Geological Survey, the Department of Energy and other partners to assess questions regarding hydraulic fracturing. Strong science means finding the answers to tough questions, and EPA's request does that."

Within the budget proposal, EPA allots $807 million, or almost 10% of the total request, for major investments in its science and technology account.

"EPA's budget request fully reflects the president's commitment to reducing government spending and finding cost savings in a responsible manner while supporting clean air, clean water and the innovative safe guards that are essential to an America that's built to last," Jackson said.

Congressman Steve Scalise (R-LA) urged Jackson to leave the responsibility for regulating fracking to individual states.

"I know [state regulation of hydraulic fracturing] has worked very well in Louisiana in not only protecting our aquifers, but also allowing for a dramatic increase with this new technology in the amount of natural gas that our country can provide," Scalise testified. "With all of these new finds, not only does it provide an opportunity for us to pull other vehicles off of gasoline and increase America's energy security, but it has also created thousands of new jobs. There is a real concern amongst the community in the natural gas industry that the EPA is looking at getting into an area where the state's have been very successful and proven in regulating that process."

"I think the study is a good idea," said Eliot Engel (D-NY). "Obviously, we don't want to contaminate drinking water or have fracking by the watershed, which is a concern that I have. On the other hand, it has the potential to create many jobs in western New York, like it has done in Pennsylvania. I think we have to know what we are dealing with."

Republicans in Congress have been vocal in the past when it comes to EPA's role in regulating fracking. Officials with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in late January fired off a letter to Jackson on the topic (see Shale Daily, Jan. 24).

"We write to better understand EPA's views on hydraulic fracturing and whether you have prejudged that hydraulic fracturing poses an environmental threat, even before the agency has completed a congressional mandated review of the practice," wrote Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. James Lankford (R-OK), chairman of the Subcommittee on Technology, in the letter to Jackson.

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