Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) introduced two bills on Thursday that would repeal exemptions for oil and gas companies under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. As a press release from the members noted, the bills were introduced:
… in order to ensure that the hydraulic fracking industry follows the same rules that other industries do in preserving our natural resources. This legislation is focused on ensuring the safety and the health of the communities where the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process is already taking place.
Polis’ bill, the “Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effect (BREATHE) Act” (H.R. 1154), is based on the premise that oil and gas wells and their associated infrastructure can cause significant air pollution. The bill would require companies to cumulatively account for air pollution from all of their wells in one area by requiring aggregate permits, rather than individual permits for each well. The bill also adds hydrogen sulfide to the list of hazardous air pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act.
Cartwright’s bill, the “Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater Runoff Through Hydraulic Environmental Regulation (FRESHER) Act” (H.R. 1175), would require stormwater runoff permits for oil and gas construction and operations to protect surface water resources. This is essential because rain causes runoff from fracking sites that can contain sediment and other pollutants which end up in nearby waters. It would also mandate a study on the effects of oil and gas operations on surface water.
In additions to these exemptions from parts of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, the oil and gas industries enjoy loopholes in a handful of other laws including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund Act, the Community Right to Know Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
At the same time oil and gas companies benefit from loopholes in laws designed to protect public health and the environment, they are making record profits. Last year, the largest five oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell — made $118 billion in profits. They also receive $2.4 billion in tax breaks every year, effectively making Americans pay twice for gasoline, both at the pump and through the U.S. Treasury. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives seems set to continue this preferential treatment of the oil and gas industry. Just this week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget preserves tax breaks for oil companies while calling for the sell-off of public lands. More benefits for big corporations, paid for by the middle class.