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Blankenship: EPA Culture of Crucifixion Goes Beyond Rhetoric

Out West, there is an unspoken solidarity among neighbors and communities based on mutual trust. That’s why recent doublespeak by the Environmental Protection Agency has left a lot of Western landowners like me with a sour taste in our mouths.

A few weeks ago, former EPA Administrator Al Armendariz turned heads in Wyoming and across the country after it became public that he’d instructed his staff to follow the philosophy of “crucifying” oil and gas companies to set an example and intimidate other businesses into falling in line.

The EPA tried to dismiss these comments as a tactless misrepresentation by one official. But actions speak louder than words, and the recent efforts by the agency to target private businesses indicate its off-the-record mentality is indicative of broader and deeper problems in the agency. It’s a betrayal of the public’s trust, and at the very least, these remarks should be cause for investigation into the true motives behind the agency’s regulatory decisions.

Only last December, the EPA announced a “likely” association between hydraulic fracturing and the contamination of local ground water in Pavillion, Wyo. Not surprisingly, the issue generated a lot of national attention. Property values fell, and my friends and neighbors who have businesses in town and depend on their land to make a living took a hit.

Once the initial clamor subsided, however, holes began to emerge in the EPA’s findings. Longtime residents, well-aware of the history of the area, began to see their skepticism of the EPA’s findings substantiated. It turned out that the test wells drilled to analyze the surrounding water tables were deeper than residential drinking wells. The EPA itself accidentally dirtied a number of its samples with chemicals not found elsewhere. And by its own standards the agency mishandled the analysis of some of its samples.

Such an eagerness to generate headlines at the expense of hardworking Americans isn’t unique to Pavillion. In fact, the EPA’s bull-out-of-the-chutes approach is apparently becoming common practice. In recent months, similar cases surfaced in Parker County, Texas, and Dimock, Pa. In both these areas, regulators were slow to walk back largely unfounded claims.

In all this, landowners are left holding the short end of the stick. In the past six months, I’ve watched my property values slide. What’s downright infuriating is the thought of our land being used as a dog and pony show by politicians looking to win the approval of special interest groups by expanding the scope and authority of the EPA.

A recent report by the Associated Press indicates that’s exactly what happened. Based on confidential emails by state officials, it appears the EPA may have been under political pressure from the White House to rush out half-baked conclusions to the media and environmental allies.

In Wyoming, we cherish our independence and freedom. Serving as the Wyoming superintendent of public instruction, I fought hard to prevent government intruding into folks’ private lives. When agencies and bureaucrats try to extend the scope of their authority beyond their fence line, it’s the responsibility of our elected officials to push them back where they belong.

The law of the West isn’t complicated, but it has served us well. Fashioned on trust and accountability, it holds that if you wrong someone, you do all you can to make it right. By those standards, lawmakers need to take a hard look at the true motives behind the EPA’s misrepresentations and set straight any policy aiming to hurt rather than help hardworking Americans.

Trent Blankenship is the former Wyoming superintendent of public instruction and a property owner in Pavillion, Wyo.

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