Court gives Obama a power check

The Obama Administration’s war on affordable energy and jobs is unlawful. U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl recently made this official, ruling the Interior Department overstepped its authority when trying to limit oil and natural gas development on federal land.

The decision shouldn’t be controversial. After all, Congress banned Interior from issuing this kind of regulation back in 2005. The law is so clear — not even Obama-appointed Skavdahl could side with the administration.

This decision is good for the rule of law. The court rightly noted that under our Constitution, Congress must first allow the Obama Administration to regulate hydraulic fracturing. Since Congress did no such thing, the Obama Administration was found acting with no authority. These cases are too numerous to list, but in the most recent one, the Supreme Court delayed implementation of the EPA’s signature greenhouse gas initiative — the Clean Power Plan — until its legality can be determined.

The regulation wouldn’t have made our energy sector safer — it would’ve simply made it more expensive to develop the nation’s energy resources. By upholding the law, the federal court delivered a victory to working Americans who depend on low-cost energy every day.

At issue is an energy development technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The process involves pumping pressurized fluids into rock formations to recover otherwise inaccessible stores of oil and gas.

Advances in fracking technology have led to an unprecedented surge in domestic fossil fuel development over the last few years. After attempting for decades to free ourselves from dependence on foreign energy, the United States now stands as the world’s leading producer of oil and gas. In fact, the country will soon export natural gas to the Middle East.

The Obama Administration has refused to consider innovative ideas to achieve energy independence. Instead, federal officials have even implemented blockades against American energy workers through needless regulations designed to obstruct legitimate energy exploration.

This is exactly what happened last year, when the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management issued a rule governing oil and gas development on public lands. Even if the rule wasn’t “contrary to law,” as Judge Skavdahl put it, it was plainly unnecessary.

The agency claimed its new standards were intended to “improve safety and help protect groundwater.” Yet, over the six decades in which fracking has been used, there haven’t been any instances of groundwater contamination.

Various aspects of fracking are already regulated by federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation, the EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and even BLM itself. Not to mention extensive state regulations govern everything from well design to air emissions and worker health.

The existing regulatory scheme keeps Americans and our environment safe. The only thing the administration accomplished by adding another layer of federal requirements was raising compliance costs for energy companies. Unfortunately, ordinary citizens end up paying.

The federal court has given the administration a much-needed power check. The president should take this as an opportunity to rethink excessive, unnecessary aspects of his environmental agenda — America’s economy will be much better off.

Michael James Barton is the founder of Hyatt Solutions and speaks around the country on energy and energy security matters. He previously served as the deputy director of Middle East policy at the Pentagon.