Trey Loftin, the Judge in a High-Profile Fracking Case, is Bragging in Campaign Mailers About His EPA Nut-Kicking
Politics is politics, and incumbents running for re-election in conservative Parker County, Texas, where the local economy is fueled entirely by shale-gas production, want to look like champions of the industry. But what if you're a judge? And what if, at the very moment you put up fliers of Rush Limbaugh's beaming mug, asking, "Why is Rush Limbaugh congratulating Parker County's own Trey Loftin," and it's because he thinks you donkey-punched "Obama's EPA" in a watershed fracking lawsuit ... what if, at that very moment, you're still supposed to be the impartial arbiter in that case?
Parker County Blog
Should Steve Lipsky, who is a party to the lawsuit, and who Loftin has ruled against repeatedly, have much faith in a judge who brags about these rulings as though they're some sort of ideological litmus test burnishing his conservative credentials?
How about when he reads a mailer like this: "The EPA, using falsified evidence provided by a liberal activist environmental consultant, accused and fined a local gas driller of contaminating wells. Obama's EPA backed down only after Judge Trey Loftin ruled that the evidence was 'deceptive.'"
No ambiguity there. That's definitely Lipsky's case. What's he to make of that?
This is a long, circuitous tale (explored at length in a recent cover story) but it goes like this: Steve Lipsky is just some well-heeled guy out in rural Parker County. His water well is on the fritz. It just won't pump like it used to. Turns out, that's because it's suddenly producing natural gas. The Railroad Commission of Texas investigates. So does the EPA. Apparently, Range Resources has a couple of gas wells running beneath Lipsky's property. The EPA concludes Range is responsible for the gas and the dangerous levels of benzene in Lipsky's well.
The agency calls the Railroad Commission out for sitting on its hands, and issues an endangerment order against Range -- a first in the history of Texas oil and gas. The Railroad Commission shortly thereafter reaches a different conclusion: That Lipsky's gas is just natural, absolving Range.
Lipsky sues in Loftin's court. Loftin, however, says he can't sue in his court. He has to go to Austin. Unfortunately, the window to file has closed. Tough luck. However! Loftin says Range can sue Lipsky in his court. The judge believes Lipsky and his environmental consultant, Alisa Rich, made it all up in an attempt to defame Range and sully the industry. So Range sues. Lipsky appeals Loftin's ruling, citing a state law that prohibits abusive countersuits intended to silence whistleblowers. He's still waiting on a decision. Range's countersuit against Lipsky is for the moment on hold. But the appellate court says Range may conduct discovery against non-parties like fracking blogger Sharon Wilson while they wait.
Meanwhile, the EPA rescinds its endangerment order against Range. The company and Texas politicos tout it as a tacit admission of grave error. But it isn't clear whether the EPA was admitting defeat, or just achieving its ends by other means. As part of the settlement, Range agrees to conduct quarterly testing of surrounding water wells for a year.
And so Lipsky waits to see whether the state appeals court will let Range -- a company with $9 billion in outstanding shares and hundreds of thousands of leased acres -- take him to the mat. And now Loftin's campaign mailers circulate, crowing about how he shoved Obama's anti-energy agenda right up the EPA's ass -- and, by extension, up Steve Lipsky's ass.