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Opinion: Columnists

National Park Service is supposed to work for America, not for Big Green

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Ron Arnold,Columnists,Analysis,Fracking,National Park Service

It's not over yet, although it seemed like National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis was off the hook for attempting to sabotage energy production and hydraulic fracturing on federal land — until Tuesday.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, was performing normal oversight monitoring of a proposed energy production and hydraulic fracturing rule on federal and Indian lands when he spotted a problem. In early September, he had noticed that the Park Service had submitted alarming comments about the proposed rule to the Bureau of Land Management.

The Park Service's comments wove a false narrative that hydraulic fracturing is not regulated and is unsafe. In fact, hydraulic fracturing and well stimulation have an impeccable decades-long safety and efficiency record on private, state, and federal lands. We’ve seen that state-by-state regulations, tailored to the exact geology of well sites, are the best regulation to protect the environment. Why were the Park Service's comments so false?

They relied on a New York Times opinion piece by Cornell Professor Anthony lngraffea asserting that methane "leakage" rates from oil and gas production were as high as 17 percent. A major federal agency was basing a potentially devastating rule on a New York Times op-ed by an outspoken anti-fracking activist in academia.

Ingraffea says he’s an advocate, not an activist, but he appeared in the ranting anti-fossil fuels film “Gasland Part II,” and gives pep talks to aggressive anti-fracking groups. Independent scientists and federal agencies have challenged, studied and dismissed lngraffea’s methane leakage claim.

Bishop wrote to Jarvis, “I am deeply disappointed at the quality of the service's comments that were submitted and the data used to support the service's conclusions.” He asked Jarvis to withdraw the comments to prevent the false impressions from spreading.

Jarvis wrote back to Bishop, admitting that “the inclusion of a quote from an article on the New York Times' Op-Ed page was inappropriate.” Acknowledging that the comments should have referenced citations to peer-reviewed scientific studies, Jarvis noted, “I did not, nor did anyone from management, review the comments. ... I have requested that the comments be withdrawn from the record.”

The trouble is, Jarvis took nearly two months to get that back to the chairman. During all that time the Park Service stamp of approval gave Big Green moneybags free rein to spread malicious impressions everywhere.

Bishop issued a conciliatory-sounding press release, saying, “I’m pleased that Director Jarvis will rescind the comments.” But he shattered any illusion of congressional tolerance for agency misconduct with this zinger: “It concerns me that the National Park Service attempted to pass off unsubstantiated information as ‘science’. This thinly veiled attempt to vilify energy production and hydraulic fracturing on our public lands illustrates a shared agenda between the administration and anti-energy special interest groups.”

The subcommittee was fed up with Jarvis and his National Park Service. On Tuesday, Bishop took the problem to Jarvis’s boss. He called Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on the oversight carpet in a three-page letter politely but firmly requesting in eight pointed questions that she take command of her wayward underlings and make them behave.

This is a test case for Jewell, who said in April, “Fracking as a technique has been around for decades” and that she herself has even “performed the procedure myself very safely.” Will she comply with each subcommittee request straightforwardly, or at all?

Bishop closed his letter to Jewell with this: “I trust that you will quickly remedy the situation and prevent something like this from happening again.”

But can she? Can she tear the arrogant, insubordinate, power-drunk park lords out of their autonomous concertina-wired fiefdom with its warped allegiances sworn to Big Green, and then convince whatever good people there may be into serving the federal government as they should, pledging allegiance to the United States of America? And then fire the unrepentant?

That's the real situation. And that's Sally Jewell's real job — get Big Green's power agents out of her Interior Department. We trust you to remedy the situation, Secretary Jewell. May fortune favor the bold.

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

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