“Frack Pack” Bills Reintroduced by Congress — Time to Close Loopholes?

A fracking operation in North Dakota      Photo: Joshua Doubek, Wiki CC

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Today, four House Democrats — Matt Cartwright (PA) Yvette Clarke (NY), Diana DeGette (CO), and Jan Schakowsky (IL) — reintroduced a package of five bills that would hold oil and gas companies accountable to meet national water and air protection standards, plugging loopholes and undoing many of the anti-environment policies of the Trump administration. Nicknamed the “Frack Pack,” the package includes the CLEANER Act, the FRESHER Act, the CLOSE Act, the FRAC Act, and the SHARED Act. The package is supported by over 18 environmental and business organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters.

Why This Matters: President Donald Trump rolled back 28 air quality and emissions regulations and 8 water pollution regulations — these bills would reverse those rollbacks and close loopholes in current law. The rollbacks included rescinding water pollution regulations for fracking on federal and Indigenous lands, revoking an Obama-era executive order designed to preserve public waters, and changing the way cost-benefit analyses are conducted under the Clean Air Act. Most of these rollbacks were made to clear the way for industrial development like drilling, fracking, mining, and logging on public lands. In 2018, a Harvard analysis of Trump’s then-proposed air and water pollution rollbacks offered an “extremely conservative estimate” that 80,000 more lives would be lost each decade  Trump’s rollbacks were fulfilled. 

Five Acts, Many Supporters

Experts estimate that these rollbacks will release an additional 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by 2035, setting the U.S. back on meeting the goals of the Paris agreement.  “Our kids and grandkids deserve to grow up in a world with clean air and clean water. But major loopholes fought for and won by big corporate oil and gas lobbyists threaten that future,” said Representative Cartwright. “The Frack Pack closes several of these decades-old legal loopholes, and protects our communities from harmful, dangerous pollutants.”  “The American people are sick and tired of living in a system that allows oil and gas companies to pump highly toxic chemicals into the ground we all share, with little or no oversight,” Representative Diana DeGette said. “We have to do more to protect people from the very real threat the use of these chemicals poses to nearby communities,” said DeGette, who has long called for oversight of hydraulic fracturing.

The five acts would work together to hold companies accountable for their pollution, close air and water quality loopholes, empower the EPA to regulate fracking, and require environmental impact updates from natural gas companies. Many of these loopholes were created by the previous administration, but some have been exploited by companies for decades. “Many of our bedrock environmental laws surrounding oil and gas extraction through fracking have legal loopholes that some have used as a license to pollute,” said Mariah Davis, Acting Director of the Choose Clean Water Coalition.

Many advocacy groups are excited to see Congress closing these loopholes, and see it as a win-win for public health and the fight against emissions. Amy Mall, a Senior Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says that the potential for job creation presented by these bills is just one more reason for Congress to pass the package. “The oil and gas industry generates toxic materials, leading to water contamination, dangerous air pollution, and toxic waste sites, and has benefitted from these loopholes for much too long,” she said. “These bills will help create healthier communities and a cleaner environment, and will even create new jobs with better industry practices.”

To Go Deeper: Virtually attend the Dept. of Interior’s Public Forum on Oil and Gas Leasing on Thursday at 1 pm.  To watch the live stream, click here.  For the full agenda, click here.

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