WASHINGTON, June 19 (UPI) -- U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and James Inhofe Tuesday accused the Obama administration of intending to widen its "war on coal" to the natural gas industry.
An administration official testifying at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency air standards for hydraulically fractured natural gas wells -- so-called fracking -- countered coal and natural gas will continue to be part of the nation's energy mix.
Speaking at the onset of the hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works' Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, Barrasso, R-Wyo., said while President Obama has called for greater natural gas production, a dozen federal agencies have been working to put a damper on that production.
"The war on coal by this administration has been devastating to communities across the West, the Midwest and Appalachia," Barrasso said. "What we are going to discuss here today is this administration's upcoming war now on natural gas."
More than 11,000 fractured wells are developed each year, a number that is expected to grow. The technique has drawn concerns among environmental groups that fear it produces cancer-causing air and water pollution.
Inhofe, R-Okla., however, ripped the EPA's new air regulations as part of the "ongoing war between -- waged by the Obama administration against fossil fuels and the development of America's abundant domestic energy resources."
"Ironically, this hearing comes at a time when President Obama's top environmental team is in Rio [de Janeiro, site of the Rio Conference Plus 20]," Inhofe said. "They're down there working on policies that would significantly weaken this country and which have failed time and time again, not only in the United States Congress, but in the arena of public opinion as well.
"The oil and gas production in America is increasing despite the Obama administration's best efforts to shut down domestic energy production in favor of their radical green agenda."
Representing the administration, Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, defended the air standards, saying they will "significantly reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants."
"They'll not slow natural gas production and the result will be substantial cost savings," McCarthy said.
"Domestic oil and natural gas production has increased every year President Obama has been in office. The Obama administration has committed to ensuring that the development of these vital domestic resources occurs both safely and responsibly.
"These standards will reduce ozone-forming air pollution and cancer-causing air toxics, providing health benefits for Americans across the country.
"I think the administrator and the administration has been very clear that natural gas is -- is part of the mix moving forward, that it offers a clean energy supply. And we're doing everything we can, like we did in this rule, to ensure that is recognizes that, it does not slow the development of oil and natural gas, and that we find a way to achieve reductions cost effectively. …
"The rules that we have put out and the analysis indicates that coal now is a large portion of the energy supply in this country, and that it will remain almost at the same level. So we are looking at a future where coal remains very much a part of the energy supply for this country," she said.