Political Theater at Congressional Hearing on EPA's "Overreach" in Texas

The fact that the EPA wasn't invited to testify at a hearing titled "Examining the Science of EPA Overreach: A Case Study in Texas" tells you just about everything you need to know. It served no discernible purpose apart from allowing GOP legislators to get their licks in and accuse the agency of killing jobs in a state that seems to have no trouble creating jobs -- at least low-wage service and retail jobs, anyway.

Among those who were actually invited to testify was Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter, who characterized EPA's investigation of a Parker County man's suddenly flammable water as a pointless and ill-founded "witch hunt." The commission exonerated gas producer Range Resources of any responsibility for explosively high levels of natural gas and potentially dangerous levels of benzene in homeowner Steve Lipsky's water.

Distressingly, Porter made these comments as his agency is performing a second investigation of the causes of Lipsky's contamination. The conclusion already sounds foregone.

What's more, no mention was made at this hearing of the EPA inspector general's report -- conducted at the behest of Oklahoma GOP Senator James Inhofe -- which found EPA was entirely justified when it issued an endangerment order against Range, finding its well was the likely source of contamination.

Nor was any mention made of the testing performed by a Duke University researcher, funded by the National Science Foundation, who has identified levels of natural gas in Lipsky's water at up to 10 times the federal limit.

Not that anyone expected for Lipsky to have allies at this hearing, but it underlies the extent to which he has been abandoned by the regulators who are supposed to protect the health and safety of his family. The saga here is a weird and complicated one that ended with EPA backing off its lawsuit against Range to pursue a compromise. It has since said that the danger to Lipsky has passed -- although if it has, it's only because he's trucking water in at his own expense, and forgoing the use of the flaming water well.

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Brantley Hargrove