This week a federal judge appointed by President Obama struck down the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2015 rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal lands. Wyoming District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl, appointed by Obama in 2011, ruled that “Congress has not delegated to the Department of Interior the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing” and that the rule exceeds the authority of the BLM.
The rule was published in 2015, and focused new regulations and requirements on well construction and wastewater storage, among other things. One of the most onerous provisions was the requirement that companies would be forced to disclose confidential information related to chemicals used in the fracking process. Such a requirement would have been a massive blow to the protection of company trade secrets and have set a dangerous precedent going forward.
Judge Skavdahl’s opinion however focused primarily on the lack of jurisdiction and authority, ruling that the Department of Interior has not received the delegated authority from Congress to oversee such far-reaching regulations. He further criticized the Interior’s efforts, arguing BLM was acting outside of its statutory authority and contrary to the rule of law.
Skavdahl also took the opportunity to point out issues of executive overreach. “Congress’ inability or unwillingness to pass a law desired by the executive branch does not default authority to the executive branch to act independently,” Skavdahl argued.
The District Court’s ruling was an embarrassing and sobering blow to President Obama and his signature effort to regulate fracking on public lands, especially at the hands of one of his own appointees. The ruling also comes on the heels of the recent Supreme Court stay that was issued on the President’s Clean Power Plan. Both rulings stand as reminders that President Obama’s repeated executive overreach is no match for basic logic and the rule of law.
While it is likely Interior will appeal this weeks ruling, given Judge Skavdahl’s clear and simple holding on the Department’s lack of statutory authority, President Obama should not count on this onerous and costly rule ever seeing the light of day.
Photo credit: Blake Thornberry