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Oil and gas panel discussion is equal parts policy, GOP politics

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, August 20, 2012, at 6:56 p.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, August 22, 2012, at 8:42 a.m.

Five of the six Kansas Republican members of Congress promised the state’s independent oil producers Monday that they will get much lower taxes and lighter environmental regulations if Republicans can take control of the White House and Senate in the November election.

The two senators and three representatives participated in a morning panel discussion — about equal parts policy and Republican politics — at the annual meeting of the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association.

The congress members all criticized the Obama administration for its environmental policies and its focus on renewable energy, saying they would do things much differently if they take power.

“These are challenging times and despite an administration that has declared war on oil, gas and coal in the various regulatory agencies, and in terms of energy, I think we all agree that it’s all of the above (including renewable energy sources), but that in doing that you don’t really do things where government is an adversary as opposed to a partner,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Dodge City.

His Senate colleague, Jerry Moran, R-Manhattan, added that “This entire delegation wants to make sure that we do the things that get the impediments out of your way and give you the opportunity to pursue production, go out explore and find and ultimately produce energy for this country and the world.”

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, warned the oil producers that 10 federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Securities and Exchange Commission, are currently studying the industry process known as “fracking.”

Fracking involves injecting water and chemicals to fracture rock deep underground, freeing trapped pools of oil and gas. While fracking has become increasingly popular with oil producers, it has drawn fire from environmental groups who fear it might do lasting damage to groundwater and other aspects of the environment.

The fact that federal agencies are studying it is almost certain to bring about new regulations on the process, Pompeo said.

“They never do a study and say, ‘Gosh darn, it’s all good,’ ” Pompeo said.

He said the way to stop the agencies is to defund them, which the House has tried to do.

Both of the senators panned their chamber’s leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, for blocking anti-regulatory initiatives – including a $15 billion budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency – that have been approved by the Republican-controlled House.

“Senator Reid told me a year and a half ago that he was not going to do anything until after the election,” Moran said.

Sharing the stage with Moran, Roberts and Pompeo were Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, and Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler.

The only Kansas member of Congress not attending was Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park. Yoder had been scheduled to attend, but spent the day dealing with questions arising from a national story about his swimming nude in the Sea of Galilee on a congressional trip to Israel last year.

Politics in the air

The panel discussion and questions frequently took on the tone and talking points of a Republican Party rally.

“I can stand on the floor and so can Jerry, and holler, and repeat your frustration, but it doesn’t change things unless we go back to regular orders and bring up an appropriations bill for EPA,” Roberts said.

“I’m going to toss it right back at you: What are you doing to help elect a Republican Senate to make a difference?”

Several times, the discussion veered from oil and gas issues into topics such as which Senate seats Republicans might win from the Democrats in the upcoming election, the national debt, and entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

“If our side wins, you’re going to hear I think a lot of distortions about Medicare,” Huelskamp said.

“But Medicare’s going bankrupt in eight years. We have to attack more entitlements, we’re going to save them, also we’re going to save our budget situation that we’re in. We are borrowing $3.4 billion every single day for the last six months … that’s unsustainable and that’s not discretionary spending, it’s the entitlements and those will continue to go up unless we figure out a better system of delivering health care.”

At one point, Moran acknowledged that “we’ve been very partisan up here in my view” and that Republicans, too, share some of the responsibility for the size of government.

“Sitting up here just talking about if Republicans win or if we have the majority, that’s not very satisfying to most of you I would guess, that we have an excuse for why we can’t do things,” Moran said.

If Republicans do win big in November, “We have to govern differently than we did the last time we had Republican president and Republican majorities in the House and Senate,” Moran said. “We spent too much money, borrowed too much money and grew government in size and scope in ways that never should have happened.”

One of a handful of Democrats in the audience, state Rep. Vince Wetta, D-Wellington, said he was encouraged that Moran did speak briefly about Democrats and Republicans working together to end gridlock in the Senate. But he said the nastiness that has characterized politics the past few years will need to abate for that to happen.

But overall, the oil producers liked what they heard from the Republican Congress members.

Frank Novy, owner of Goddard-based Novy Oil and president of KIOGA 25 years ago, said he’s especially concerned about the federal deficit and spending.

“Hopefully the election coming up will change some of that,” he said.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527.

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