POLITICS

Lawmakers fear Kathleen Sebelius taking aim at natural gas boom

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke

House Energy and Commerce Committee lawmakers worry that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Center for Disease Control will, in the name of public health, crack down on the hydraulic fracturing central to the natural gas boom.

“Despite the significant growth of natural gas development, we are greatly concerned that the scientific objectivity of the Department of Health and Human Services is being subverted and countless jobs could be in jeopardy,” committee chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., wrote to Sebelius today in a letter signed by relevant subcommittee heads.

Sebelius has an apparent opportunity to shape hydraulic fracturing regulations because an executive order from President Obama empowered the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to participate in an Interagency Working Group on the safety of natural gas production.

“As questions within CDC’s area of expertise arise before the Interagency Working Group, we expect that your Department will adopt an approach based on sound scientific principles, including scientific study and analyses unencumbered by preconceived notions, prejudice, or ideology; a robust peer review process; and conclusions informed by decades of State regulator expertise,” the lawmakers added.

Earlier this year, the CDC told Bloomberg News that “We do not have enough information to say with certainty whether shale gas drilling poses a threat to public health.” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, whose agency is also collaborating with the other agencies in the working group, promised that the EPA would “use its authorities to protect local residents if a driller endangers water supplies and the state and local authorities have not acted.

The executive order charges the Interagency Working Group with facilitating the development of “sensible, cost-effective public health and environmental standards to implement Federal law and augment State safeguards.” Upton’s earlier letter requesting clarity on the IWG’s work, but received no answer from Jackson or the IWG.

The CDC has so far avoided meeting with lawmakers to talk about the public health study. “The fact that the agency has not yet provided or scheduled the briefing – two months after it was first requested – raises significant concerns that the agency does not intend to include Congress, the states, or the public in a process that is of critical importance to and could have a lasting impact on our economy and job creation,” the lawmakers also wrote today.

 

 

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