Top EPA Official: ‘Dickheads’ in White House Resisted Regulating Fracking

Text messages with Sierra Club lobbyist reveal tension between Dems and environmentalists

Michael Goo / AP
September 12, 2016

A senior Environmental Protection Agency official privately complained about "dickheads" in the White House who resisted efforts to regulate an innovative oil and gas extraction technique, newly released documents show.

Michael Goo, then the EPA’s policy chief, complained to a Sierra Club lobbyist that the White House Office of Management and Budget was resisting efforts to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

"If you want any hope of regulation of fracking then give us more time to try and remove the gun from our head and talk sense into OMB dickheads," Goo wrote to John Coequyt, the Sierra Club’s top climate policy official and one of its team of D.C. lobbyists.

Goo and Coequyt worked extensively behind the scenes to craft major EPA policies under Obama, including, these text messages show, the agency's first major fracking regulations.

The text message was obtained by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute through a Freedom of Information Act request and shared exclusively with the Washington Free Beacon.

Goo sent the message on the same day that EPA reached an agreement with environmental groups to postpone the issuance of new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas extraction operations.

The message indicates that the OMB, the White House’s chief policy arm, was pushing back on efforts inside the EPA to include fracking regulations in a suite of new rules, known as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), restricting the oil and gas industry.

"If you want the oil and gas nsps to give fracking a free pass, as OMB would like then don’t give us the extension," Goo wrote.

Goo and Coequyt did not return requests for comment.

On the day that Goo sent his text to Coequyt, EPA and environmental groups pushing it to issue the rule reached an agreement extending the timeline by about two weeks. On April 16, 2012, the agency posted a final NSPS oil and gas rule that subjected hydraulically fractured wells to additional emissions regulations.

It is not clear what input OMB had in the issuance of that final rule. The Obama White House has frequently resisted calls from the environmental community to take an aggressive stance against fracking, which high-ranking White House officials have implicitly supported as a means of boosting domestic energy production.

John Podesta, who led climate policy for the White House before leaving to chair Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, has called natural gas a "bridge, if you will, from a world in which there are still needs for fossil fuels to power our economy to a world in which we can get more from zero-carbon sources of energy."

"We think it’s a practical and viable way to reduce emissions in the short run," Podesta said in 2014.

He has also criticized environmental groups that want a complete and immediate end to American fossil fuel production.

"With all due respect to my friends in the environmental community, if they expect us to turn off the lights and go home, that’s sort of an impractical suggestion," Podesta said during his White House stint.

However, since Podesta’s departure in early 2015 the White House has backed efforts to tighten regulations on emissions from hydraulically fractured wells. In his 2015 State of the Union address, Obama endorsed efforts to restrict methane emissions from such wells. The EPA issued regulations to that effect in May.

Published under: EPA , Fracking