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Obama's backdoor attack on fracking

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Examiner Editorial in   The Washington Examiner August 13, 2012 | 8:00 pm

When President Obama's regulatory apparatus takes the side of environmentalists against the workers and consumers who must bear the consequences of his decisions, his green enforcers are usually the U.S. Department of the Interior or the Environmental Protection Agency. In the rare instance, as with the Keystone Pipeline, it is the State Department that delivers the crippling blow. But where these agencies have failed to inflict sufficient damage on one of America's fastest-growing industries, the Department of Transportation has stepped forward, cudgel in hand.

Since Obama's inauguration in January 2009, overall employment in the U.S. has declined. In domestic oil and gas extraction, however, it has grown by 19 percent. With just under 200,000 employees, it is not one of America's largest industries, but it has helped take the edge off the lack of employment opportunities available in the Obama recovery. Thousands of jobs in other industries have sprung up in the oases that oil and gas have created, bringing rural ghost towns back to life. The reason is hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" technology, which has made vast amounts of natural gas profitably accessible, even at today's low natural gas prices.

Environmentalists are determined to put a stop to this carbon profiteering. The EPA is still conducting studies that environmentalists hope will someday justify draconian regulations on fracking. Enter Obama's Transportation Department. By suddenly reinterpreting a 50-year-old rule that limits truck drivers to 11 hours on the work site at a stretch, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has delivered an unexpected victory for environmental activists.

Truckers on drilling sites spend hours each day waiting around until one rig or another needs water or sand. This is why, ever since the 11-hour trucking safety rule was adopted in 1962, truckers who haul water and sand to drilling sites have been exempted. There is no issue of road fatigue, the focus of the 11-hour rule. The Transportation Department's reinterpretation eliminates this exemption, disproportionately affecting sites where fracking is employed. Voila - environmental regulation without the hassles of justifying it scientifically, as would be required for an EPA action.

"This is clearly an indication that somewhere up in the top echelons of this administration, there is a constant battle -- a war going on -- to try to artificially level the playing field between the oil and gas industry and the renewable [energy] industry," Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., told The Washington Examiner.

Whatever Obama's reasons, this crackdown on natural gas is irreconcilable with his praise for the industry's success. In this year's State of the Union address, Obama spoke of gas in a fashion that presaged his more recent "you didn't build that" campaign-trail argument in favor of higher taxes and bigger government. "[I]t was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock," he said.

Obama's claim is untrue - the federal government spent little to research fracking and stopped altogether in 1992 - but leave that aside. Even as Obama hails the natural gas boom as a vindication of his philosophy, his administration is crippling it with a sudden backdoor rule change. It says a lot about how this president has subordinated the creation of good-paying, long-lasting jobs to the whims of environmentalist bundlers and donors in New York and Hollywood.

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