Over the past few decades—with the help of Congress—Big Oil and Gas successfully chipped away at our bedrock environmental laws, carving out special exemptions for the fossil fuel drilling industry. In 1987, when Congress decided to implement new standards to control stormwater runoff pollution under the Clean Water Act, oil and gas companies got a pass. And in 1990 when the Clean Air Act was expanded to allow for control of more toxic air pollutants, the same industry got another pass. These exemptions from our fundamental air and water protections have left communities across the country exposed to dangerous health risks and threats to their environment from oil and gas operations right in their backyards.
Fortunately, activists engaged in the fight against fracking saw an important step forward, yesterday, with the introduction of two pieces of legislation in the House of Representatives. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) introduced H.R. 1154, the BREATHE Act, and Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA) introduced H.R. 1175, the FRESHER Act. These bills call for common sense safeguards to protect water and air resources from pollution generated by the process of hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.
The BREATHE Act would hold the oil and gas industry accountable for their impact on air quality by closing a loophole to the Clean Air Act’s aggregation provision. The bill goes even further to add hydrogen sulfide to the list of hazardous pollutants covered under the Clean Air Act. The aggregation loophole leaves many oil and gas wells exempt from controlling their pollution as carefully as larger sources—even though the total pollution created by these thousands of wells is much greater than any individual ‘major source,’ leading to worse smog in communities in rural Wyoming than in Los Angeles.
The FRESHER Act would eliminate the Clean Water Act exemption secured by the oil and gas industry. This bill would hold oil and gas companies to the same standards as other industries and require them to obtain stormwater runoff permits for construction and drilling activities. In addition, the bill directs regulators to study the effects of stormwater runoff from fracking operations on public lands. Both drilling and building infrastructure to support drilling cause significant amounts of erosion and sedimentation of streams. This can lead to pollution of surface water, harm to aquatic habitat, and increased costs for local water infrastructure.