In the latest rebuke of the Obama administration’s expansive view of executive power, a federal judge has struck down the Interior Department’s effort to regulate fracking for oil and natural gas.
Judge Scott Skavdahl of the District Court of Wyoming already had put a hold on the regulations last year, and in a decision released late Tuesday, he ruled that Congress did not give Interior the power to regulate hydraulic fracturing, indeed it had expressly withheld that power with some narrow exceptions.
“Congress has not delegated to the Department of Interior the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing,” Judge Skavdahl wrote in deciding a lawsuit brought by industry groups and a number of Western states. The “effort to do so through the Fracking Rule is in excess of its statutory authority and contrary to law.”
The judge dismissed particularly the claim by the Interior Department and its Bureau of Land Management that it had inherent broad regulatory authority to pursue the public good on federal and Indian lands, the only place the regulations would have applied.
“Congress’ inability or unwillingness to pass a law desired by the executive branch does not default authority to the executive branch to act independently, regardless of whether hydraulic fracturing is good or bad for the environment or the citizens of the United States,” wrote Judge Skavdahl, whom Mr. Obama appointed to the bench in 2011.
The Interior rules would have regulated well construction, the storage of waste water left over from the process, and required the public release of the chemical mixes used.
Even though it would only apply on federal land, the rules would have overlapped (and sometimes contradicted) state regulations and compromised competitively valuable information, potentially throwing a crimp into the U.S. fossil-fuel production boom of recent years — exactly the point, industry groups and Western states said.
Interior can appeal the ruling.
The Obama administration on a variety of subjects — immigration, gun regulations, health-care spending, the appointment process — has attempted to enact its agenda by claiming more executive power, often in the form of federal regulations buttressed by complaints that Congress isn’t passing the laws Mr. Obama wants. Even before Tuesday, courts had struck down numerous of those claims to power.