House Republicans are cheering a federal court judge appointed by President Obama after a ruling that not only concluded the federal government cannot regulate hydraulic fracturing but cannot regulate anything without the legislative permission of Congress.
The decision from Judge Scott Skavdahl comes in a case brought by the states of Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota and Utah plus two energy companies against Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Instead of ruling strictly on the merits of the case, Skavdahl vigorously argued for the respective branches to honor their limitations as outlined in the Constitution.
“The issue before this Court is not whether hydraulic fracturing is good or bad for the environment or the citizens of the United States,” he wrote. The question, instead, is “whether Congress has delegated to the Department of Interior legal authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing. It has not.”
“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,” added Skavdahl. “‘[The Supreme] Court consistently has given voice to, and has reaffirmed, the central judgment of the Framers of the Constitution that, within our political scheme, the separation of governmental powers into three coordinate Branches is essential to the preservation of liberty.’” Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361, 380 (1989).’
For lawmakers concerned about the Obama administration’s effort to rein in the fracking boom, Judge Skavdahl’s opinion came as a pleasantly stunning surprise.
“He sets up the restatement of our founding principles that there’s got to be a balance of powers and that some powers are given to the administrative branch of government, i.e. the agencies, and some powers aren’t. Unless it’s specifically in the Constitution, which obviously this is not, then it has to come directly from Congress,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va, who represents coal country in southwestern Virginia and is a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
As thrilled as Griffith is with the ruling, he’s especially encouraged by who rendered it.
“I think momentum is starting to head back in the direction of the legislative branch. We’re seeing more judges pushing back on agencies that take on powers that they don’t have. I think it’s important to note that this particular judge is an Obama appointee. It’s not just former Bush appointees making these decisions,” said Griffith.
Of course a district court judge will most likely not have the final say on this matter or on the larger battle between the executive and legislative branches. Griffith hopes other courts follow the Constitution like Skavdahl did.
“I hope that the other courts will agree with this judge and understand that this is a debate for Congress to have,” said Griffith.
But while Griffith like’s the court decision, he says Congress must do more to stand up for itself.
“I think we have to be more aggressive on the funding side,” he said, alluding to Congress having the power to withhold funding from any area where it believes the executive branch has exceeding it’s authority. “I think we have to hope that the judiciary will recognize that the executive is getting too powerful and overstepping its bounds, gettin’ too big for its britches as my mama would say.”
Outside of the separation of powers issue, Griffith is also pleased at the impact this ruling will have on American energy exploration.
“Fracking does give us more natural gas. It gives us the ability to get more oil. I think it’s huge for the American domestic supply. We don’t want to be dependent for our energy on foreign sources. I think this is a huge issue,” said Griffith.
He says fracking and unleashing other traditional energy sources is the only plan that accepts reality.