EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler: You Don’t Have To Ban Fracking If You Regulate It To Death

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler: You Don’t Have To Ban Fracking If You Regulate It To Death

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wants to ban fracking. He doesn't say it like he used to a few months ago, but he doesn't have to.
Tristan Justice
By

2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden wants to ban fracking.

He doesn’t say it like he used to a few months ago, but he doesn’t have to. He made his position clear enough to the American people throughout the 12-month primary.

Since capturing the Democratic nomination however, the former vice president has appeared to shift his tone on the innovative practice for oil and natural gas extraction as not to spoil his chances in the critical rust-belt swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“I do not propose banning fracking,” Biden tried to clarify during last week’s ABC town hall with former Clinton White House Communications Director George Stephanopoulos, going on to argue that emissions just have to be eliminated if its going to continue under a Biden administration. “It has to be managed very, very well.”

In other words, Biden is going to regulate it into oblivion.

Ban or no ban, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told The Federalist in an exclusive interview published Monday it doesn’t matter given the rhetoric from the Democratic ticket.

“I’ve heard him talking about fracking multiple times and every time it seems a little different,” Wheeler said. “But you don’t have to ban something if you regulate it to death. And the Obama administration was regulating it to death.”

Wheeler’s right of course. There are endless ways an administration run by Biden and California Sen. Kamala Harris could effectively weaponize federal regulatory agencies to functionally ban the the controversial practice without ever crafting explicit legislation doing so. They can tighten rules under the Clean Air Act, draw out permit application processes, axe tax incentives, pass burdensome red tape, halt the construction of new pipelines, and perhaps most consequentially, bar it on federal lands.

The Democratic ticket’s platform indeed prominently endorses the elimination of new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters while setting a goal for net-zero emissions by 2050, an ambitious and nearly impossible timeline set 30 years from now. According to the Bureau of Land Management, onshore federal lands provide 8 percent of the nation’s oil and 9 percent of its natural gas, while offshore production produces 15 percent of American oil and 3 percent of its gas.

Myron Ebell, an energy and environmental expert at the conservative-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), agreed with Wheeler’s assessment and emphasized that the Biden-Harris platform is more about eliminating oil and natural gas altogether, which, in turn, includes fracking. Today, more than 95 percent of natural gas and oil wells are developed with hydraulic fracturing.

“An administration that was dedicated to reducing oil and gas production could do many things using existing regulations to put pressures on the industry and make it much harder to operate profitably,” Ebell told The Federalist.

He highlighted how a potential Biden-Harris administration would already have all the regulatory tools at their disposal to crack down on fossil fuel production. “My expectation is that it will be at least as bad as the Obama-Biden administration, but probably quite a lot worse.”

While the fracking boom happened under Obama’s watch, the progressive White House was no friend of the fossil fuel industry. President Obama’s war on coal provides a grim preview of what can happen when an administration decides to regulate producers out of business, where 83,000 jobs had been lost and 400 mines were closed since 2008.

Though economic forces have also been at play reducing coal’s dominance as a primary source of U.S. power generation, those forces were no doubt been accelerated by the Obama administration’s regulatory regime.

“If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” Obama said in 2008.

The chart below from the New York Times illustrates how natural gas has surpassed coal as a top source of power generation as coal becomes increasingly uncompetitive.

Ebell maintained that while the fracking boom still flourished under Obama which cut emissions to generational lows, it came to be despite the administration’s hostility towards fossil fuels.

“The whole thing happened because of clever people in free markets in spite of government action,” Ebell said.

In contrast, President Donald Trump has been proactive in propping up the industry, repealing Obama-era rules that sought to stifle innovation.

Biden and Harris meanwhile, have only pledged to ramp up government regulation on all fossil fuels, including natural gas and oil production which have radically reduced the nation’s carbon footprint.

“I guarantee you we’re going to end fossil fuels,” Biden pledged at a New Hampshire campaign event last year.

Harris on the other hand, who flip-flopped on fracking during this month’s vice presidential debate, is an original co-sponsor of the socialist Green New Deal which aims to phase out fossil fuels. The legislation is also explicitly endorsed on Biden’s campaign website, who also tried to back away from his support of it during the first presidential debate.

“There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking,” Harris said during the Democratic primary. “Starting with what we can do on day one around public lands.”

The American Petroleum Institute estimates that a ban on fracking would cost the United States upwards of 7.5 million jobs, with states such as Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio hardest hit, losing at least a half million each. Texas would lose more than 1.1 million.

A Biden-Harris administration doesn’t need to endorse an explicit ban on fracking to ensure those 7.5 million Americans are forced to look elsewhere for work.

Tristan Justice is a staff writer at The Federalist focusing on the 2020 presidential campaigns. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at [email protected]

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