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Federal energy policy:?Be careful what you wish for

May 5, 2012
Salem News

Be careful what you wish for. You just may get it. That is advice we hope some officials in the oil and gas industries do not wish they had heard and heeded before they suggested it would be a good thing for the federal government to take more responsibility over gas drilling.

Last month President Barack Obama signed an executive order that could lead to more federal rules on gas drilling. Obama said it is important to take advantage of natural gas resources, but he added air and water quality must be safeguarded.

Of course. Virtually every state in which gas drilling has increased dramatically has strict rules to protect the air, water and soil. But that has some in the industry concerned, because the regulatory environment is a patchwork of rules that differ from state to state.

Industry groups welcomed Obama's order, and with it the prospect standardized federal rules would supplant state requirements. In addition, the industry is concerned about overlapping and sometimes contradictory federal regulations. "We have called on the White House to rein in these uncoordinated activities ... and are pleased to see forward progress," commented Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. The API is the oil and gas industry's largest lobbying group.

But what Obama did last week was to establish a "working group" to coordinate federal oversight of the natural gas industry. It will be headed by Heather Zichal, who is deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change.

Zichal is no friend of fossil fuels. She once worked with the Sierra Club and was an adviser on energy and environmental matters to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. Earlier this year, she was one of four White House officials asked to testify to Congress about the fiasco involving $535 million in lost federal loan guarantees to the Solyndra solar energy company. Zichal was aware of Solyndra's problems as early as October 2010, while the White House still was touting the company's "green" energy work.

Zichal's position on natural gas is not known - but her record as a booster of "renewables" is not encouraging.

A reasonable federal regulatory framework for the natural gas industry indeed would be a good thing. But the Obama administration's record on fossil fuels is one of holding the industry back, not encouraging it to meet the nation's energy needs. Let's hope that philosophy does not rule Zichal's working group.



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