Politics May Limit EPA on Natural Gas Rules


"Congress has pressured the agency to keep the focus of the new study narrow."

When Congress considered whether to regulate more closely the handling of wastes from oil and gas drilling in the 1980s, it turned to the Environmental Protection Agency to research the matter. EPA researchers concluded that some of the drillers' waste was hazardous and should be tightly controlled.

But that is not what Congress heard. Some of the recommendations concerning oil and gas waste were eliminated in the final report handed to lawmakers in 1987.

"It was like the science didn't matter," Carla Greathouse, the author of the study, said in a recent interview. "The industry was going to get what it wanted, and we were not supposed to stand in the way."

EPA officials told her, she said, that her findings were altered because of pressure from the Office of Legal Counsel of the White House under Ronald Reagan. A spokesman for the EPA declined to comment.

Ms. Greathouse's experience was not an isolated case. EPA studies have been repeatedly narrowed in scope, and important findings have been removed.

For example, the agency had planned to call last year for a moratorium on hydrofracking in the New York City watershed, but the advice was removed from the publicly released letter.

Now some scientists and lawyers at the EPA are wondering whether history is about to repeat itself, as the agency undertakes a study of natural gas. And in Congress, members from drilling states like Oklahoma have pressured the agency to keep the focus of the new study narrow.

But interviews with EPA scientists, and confidential documents obtained by The New York Times, show long and deep divisions within the agency over whether and how to increase regulation of oil and gas drillers, and over the enforcement of existing laws that some agency officials say are clearly being violated.

Related Articles

Get Our Streetwise Reports Newsletter Free

A valid email address is required to subscribe