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Is EPA’s inspector general overstepping with review of fracking regs?

The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general said Tuesday that he will move forward with a review of pollution risks from hydraulic fracturing, despite objections from lawmakers who say he is overstepping his bounds.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued in a letter to EPA watchdog Arthur Elkins this month that inspectors general are “not allowed to conduct regulatory investigations, but that is what this review appears to be.” He said Elkins’s office “oversteps its responsibility to provide oversight of EPA” by conducting the review.

In a response letter, Elkins said he considered the lawmaker’s concerns but decided to move forward with the evaluation, adding that federal law gives him the independence and authority to make such calls.

“In the end, I have to make a judgment call on whether a matter is within the purview of this office and if there is value in the work we would be doing to pursue it,” the inspector general said.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a controversial method for extracting oil or gas by pumping sand and chemicals underground at high pressures. The practice has raised concerns among environmentalists about potential pollution of groundwater.

Earlier this year, Inhofe and other Republicans from oil-rich states issued a letter to Elkins questioning his authority to conduct a planned review of state fracking regulations, saying he was inappropriately venturing into the realm of policy. The lawmakers included Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Cornyn (Tex.), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and David Vitter (La.).

According to Elkins’s letter, the EPA review will look at “EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing.”

The inspector general did not explain how the evaluation fits into the purview of his office, saying instead that he is not required by law to justify his work to Congress.