(Updated: 9:56 a.m. June 28: The House science panel has postponed this hearing, and so our Sunlight Live blog is postponed too. We'll let you know as soon as we can reschedule.)
Fracking is likely to be at the center of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson's first appearance before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on Thursday, which we'll be covering that day beginning at 10 a.m. on Sunlight Live, a tool that allows us to provide a video stream of the proceedings along with real time data and commentary.
Hydraulic fracturing — the official term for fracking — is a controversial practice for extracting heretofore hard-to-reach natural gas reserves. It was the subject of a June 7 letter of inquiry from one of the committee members, Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md. In the letter, Harris asked Jackson 28 questions about EPA's studies on fracking, and gave a June 28 deadline — this Thursday — to respond.
Jackson, seen at right, can expect tough questions from the committee. Its chairman, Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, has been critical of the agency, writing on his webpage that the EPA is “doing all it can to stifle the production of petroleum, natural gas, and clean coal.” Last year, Hall referred to an EPA study on hydraulic fracturing as a “waste of government money,” and generally describes environmental regulations as “job-killing.”
Although a specific agenda for the hearing has not been set, according to Zachary Kurz, Communications Director for the committee, Thursday’s hearing will cover a broad range of topics, and examine scientific underpinnings of EPA policies, and “basically, how they do science.”
Hall has challenged EPA representatives during previous hearings and has supported bills to restart offshore drilling, prohibit greenhouse gas regulation, and push a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. The oil and gas and electric utilities industries, which include companies involved in fracking, have donated more than $1.25 million to Hall since 1998. And since the beginning of this campaign cycle, the energy and natural resource sector has donated a little more than $1 million to members of the Science, Space and Technology Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the panel's top-ranking Democrat, has spoken in favor of air and water resource conservation and further EPA studies on hydraulic fracturing. However, she has also criticized the agency performing studies too slowly.
Johnson has received significant support from a Texas electric utility company, Energy Future Holdings Corp. The utility's PAC and its employees have given her $11,700 this election cycle.
While Thursday's testimony will mark Jackson’s first appearance before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, she has testified before other committees more than three dozen times during her time as administrator. She will be the fourth EPA representative to visit this committee or one of its subcommittees this year. Past topics have included the EPA budget, a rule to reduce mercury and other toxic emissions, and hydraulic fracturing.
Sunlight will share more data and expertise on Thursday, as our team blogs with real-time information on the influences in the hearing room.
Photo credit: U.S. Government photo via Flickr