Policy: Environment & Energy

'Obamacrats' threaten America's energy boom with Endangered Species Act

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,Louisiana,West Virginia,Energy and Environment,Mary Landrieu,Joe Manchin,Magazine,Endangered Species Act

Injustice at the hands of President Obama's government agencies is piling up at a monumental rate, largely because he selects administrators who loathe resource production and aggressively look for ways to unmake America's industrial strength -- as well as arrogantly dismissing all proof of their destructiveness with haughty legalistic obfuscation.

That may sound extreme, but the volume of email I get from victims of Obamacrats says that’s an understatement.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used its authority over the endangered diamond darter -- a small fish -- to designate 122 miles of river and tributaries between West Virginia and Kentucky untouchable, which put West Virginia's timber, mining, oil and gas workers in serious peril.

The weapon that USFWS used is the Endangered Species Act and its mandate to designate “critical habitat” -- places put off limits to human disturbance, as defined by an enforcer.

During the critical habitat rulemaking process, West Virginia's Chamber of Commerce, its Oil and natural gas Association, Coal Association, Forestry Association and Kanawha County pleaded with USFWS to study the true economic impacts to small businesses, communities and their industries before imposing the final rule.

USFWS refused to do any such study of Kanawha County’s economy. Why? Read the Federal Register of Aug. 23, 2013, on page 52364 for the reply: USFWS wrote that the county “does not meet the definition of small government under the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Flexibility Act (SBREFA; 5 U.S.C. 801 et seq.).”

Likewise, when the oil and gas industry begged for a study of the darter's economic impact on existing and future hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), which is beginning to boom in West Virginia, USFWS said “no” with an exasperating brush-off: “Under the Act's jeopardy standard, … the draft economic analysis qualitatively describes, but does not quantify, these potential impacts to coal mining and natural gas production activities.”

It went on like that for 25 pages, plain English requests versus federal gibberish informing West Virginia’s coal miners and natural gas field workers they’re not worth the time for Obamacrats to care what happens to them.

Into this well of worry comes Obama's hand-picked, rabidly anti-production Reah Sun Suh, a controversial candidate for assistant secretary of the Interior for fish and wildlife and parks -- boss of the USFWS.

As noted previously in this space, Suh is infamous for her 2007 statement while a Hewlett Foundation official, “natural gas development is easily the single greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the West.” If she wins Senate confirmation, America's entire oil and gas boom will be at risk -- the Endangered Species Act controls private land, not just federal.

Approval of Suh's nomination by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was unpredictably snagged last week by the departure of Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who took the Senate Finance Committee seat vacated by former Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who was appointed ambassador to China.

Musical chairs then elevated Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to energy committee chairwoman -- a potential Democratic disaster, for she was already staggering in a close fight with Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy for reelection in a strong oil and gas state. Now Landrieu would have to preside over the empowerment of a known enemy. The blood on her hands would be her own.

In a still-mysterious move, on Feb. 20 — Landrieu’s first day on the new job — the panel was called to a surprise markup session that was supposed to include a vote on Suh’s confirmation. It was thwarted by the winter’s worst snowstorm — Congress had rushed home the night before to beat it.

Only four senators showed up: Landrieu, Wyden, ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. Without a quorum there was no vote, so Suh's nomination is frozen until a later date. But there was a markup session, a very awkward, embarrassing one.

Landrieu gaveled her first meeting to order and promptly recognized Wyden, who gave his opening remarks, then Murkowski was recognized to give hers. Landrieu just sat there while Wyden and Murkowski ran the show, then adjourned the meeting.

Why was this session held at all? Murkowski told the National Journal that she believes the decision came from above the committee's Democratic leadership level, from the White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. If true, Suh must be somehow vital to Obama's hostile agenda -- an alarming possibility.

Landrieu has given her support to Suh; all Republicans on the panel oppose Suh.

It would take only one Democratic vote in committee to keep Suh’s nomination from going to the full Senate, which would end her candidacy.

Unless Landrieu changes, committee member Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is in the hot seat. His state and all oil and gas states are in danger. Should he do the bidding of the White House for party unity, or defend his constituency from diamond darter shutdowns and future designations?

Obama didn't elect you, Joe. He shouldn't own you either.

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.
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