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Smokescreen

Published August 8, 2013 5:25 pm

Stewart fouls the regulatory air
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

So. Rep. Chris Stewart wants the Environmental Protection Agency to disgorge tons of data it has used to arrive at stricter air quality standards. His House Science Committee is threatening to issue a subpoena if the agency doesn't come across soon.

While he is waiting for that to be fought out in Congress and, perhaps, in the courts, the Utah Republican might slake some of his commendable curiosity by reading over another study. The one that finds that significant portions of the natural gas that being mined from Utah's Uinta Basin is leaking into the atmosphere and adding to the serious air quality problems suffered in that area.

Research carried out jointly by the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that the process of extracting large amounts of natural gas in the area is apparently sloppy enough that as much as 12 percent of it is getting away. That's a lot more than had been thought, well above the industry average of less than 2 percent, and enough to help explain why an area that is not home to snarls of traffic or rows of smokestacks often falls victim to such high levels of air pollution.

The study, if its conclusions hold up, is a textbook example of why government regulation of air quality is necessary. The companies that are spending a lot of money to drill for natural gas in the Uinta Basin and elsewhere, might be expected to act on their own use whatever technology and procedures are necessary to minimize leakage of the very material they are trying to capture and market.

The fact that they are not doing so — or, at least, not doing so successfully — shows why oversight of industry is needed. If the profit being lost to leaky wells, pipes or whatever isn't enough to get the drillers to clean up their act, then the government must force them to.

Meanwhile, Stewart and some of his fellow Republicans in Congress are claiming that the EPA's unwillingness to spill its guts over how it decides what regulations to impose suggests that the agency is acting on "secret science" that doesn't really justify expensive air quality regulations.

The EPA says it has already provided the relevant data, withholding only the personal medical information of thousands of people whose health problems were measured as part of the necessary cost-benefit analysis that goes with environmental rules.

So far, Stewart and his allies have done nothing to suggest that any amount of data would convince them that government action is necessary to protect our air. And their subpoenas are just another smokescreen to obscure that fact.