In the now heated (or not really) dash to the May primaries in Pennsylvania, the run for the nomination for governor on the Democratic ticket includes all of the usual rhetoric about education, health care, prisons, some relatively new come-to-Jesus moments about Marijuana, and what amounts to little more than some hand-waving at the most important environmental issue to face Pennsylvanians of our times: the consequences, inception to export, of slickwater hydraulic horizontal fracking.
In fact, I think it no stretch at all to suggest that the spate of candidates on the Democratic ticket is woefully under-educated, under-interested, and underwhelming on this issue. Here’s how a Democrat friend put it to me “Wendy, you know, we can’t have everything. You have to be willing to give up something.”
But–my response–if we give up our right to clean water and air, what’s the point of fighting for any of these other valuable things?
It was with this no-brainer insight in mind that I accepted an invitation to speak at the PA Green Party Nominating Convention, 2.29.14, and it is the reason I accepted the Lt. Governor’s spot for the governor’s race with Paul Glover on the green Party ticket (Green Party Convention Presentation, 2.14 – a set on Flickr).
Don’t get me wrong–it’s not that I think fracking is the only issue confronting Pennsylvanians. It’s that there will be no effective way of addressing any of these until we get very clear that fracking must be banned–and only one party is willing to stand by that message:
Of all the issues confronting Pennsylvanians—health care, education, jobs, etc.—among the most important of these are the devastating ecological and human rights toll the fossil fuel extraction industry has taken on the Commonwealth, her neighboring states, and the planet as a whole in the form of its potentially devastating contribution to climate change.
Fracking must be banned.
There are many reasons why an articulate and uncompromising opposition to hydraulic fracturing, mountain top removal, tar sands extraction, other forms of unconventional gas drilling, the Keystone Pipeline, the construction of LNG export depots, is critical to the Pennsylvania gubernatorial campaign.
Here are just four:
1.The responsibility of the governor is to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution, including Article 1, section 27: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”
2.The fossil fuel industry’s profit objectives are demonstrably inconsistent with the commitment to health care, education, and jobs.
A few examples:
a. Health care: given the hazardous health effects that follow from exposure to the carcinogens, biocides, and other toxins associated with the fracking process; given that a similar account can be given for exposure to toxins resultant from compressor station emissions; given the potential for explosions at every juncture of this process—frack pad, pipeline, truck accident, compressor; and lastly, given that these hazards make particularly vulnerable populations already marginalized by the state’s inadequate health care access, no case can be made in defense of the industry’s conversion of Pennsylvania into what amounts to an extraction factory for wealthy multinationals.
b. Education: in addition to the obvious hazards of locating extraction-associated facilities next to public schools, the effort of the Corbett administration to extort state universities into accepting extraction operations on their campuses is in obvious conflict with the missions of those public institutions, and inconsistent with the commitment to the health and welfare of their communities. APSCUF—the Associated Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty union—opposes any such construction, and I had the privilege of drafting that resolution for all 14 campuses.
c. Jobs: as is made clear on the numbers, the shale boom has not generated lasting employment for Pennsylvanians. Instead, it has diminished the potential for future employment in industries connected to our once spectacular forests, rivers, and high value streams, exposed mostly non-unionized workers to toxic health hazards, and exported profits from frack pad to off-shore bank accounts of already obscenely wealthy CEOs. That a very few may become very wealthy via royalties or other associated enterprise at the expense of the very many is intolerable to a democratic union and a prescription for future disaster.
3. States are no more closed loop systems than are human bodies or frack pads. In a world increasingly confronted by the effects of global climate change, deforestation, desertification, and toxic pollution, governors and legislators must act responsibly not merely to their own constituents—much less to their campaign donors—but to the stability of the global ecology as a whole. We can no longer afford to bury our heads in the sand about the impacts of an industry whose history so clearly shows that its mercenary drive to profit exceeds at every turn its commitment to human welfare or ecological stability.
4. States do not have the right to deploy their police forces to quash dissent—yet, our current administration not only acts legislatively to insure the smooth path to profit, but deploys its police resources against the people in an effort to suppress, fear-monger, manipulate, and intimidate those who expose this path as littered with toxins, political corruptions, and egregious forms of harm.
Extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction must be banned not only because the citizens of the Commonwealth cannot afford the consequences, but because no regulation can adequately prevent the harm. As we at Shale Justice (Shale Justice) claim consistently: regulation is about nothing other than controlling temporarily the rate of harm—not the quantity, not the duration. Moreover, no matter what some argue are “best practices,” none keep the gas in the ground—the only strategy that will prevent the contribution of fossil fuel extraction to climate change.
Pennsylvania’s governor must act not only in the interest of all Pennsylvanians—but for the future of Pennsylvania. What this means is that she or he must take seriously the adage that the local is the global—for this is no mere hyperbole; it is fact. And as such, it is moral duty.
It is remarkable and deeply telling that no candidate (or designated representative) from the Democrats appeared at the Susquehanna County Courthouse, 3.24.14, in defense of either the First Amendment rights of anti-fracking Vera Scroggins, but a representative from the Green Party was.
It is remarkable and deeply telling that none of the remaining Democrats running for the governor’s office have signed onto their own party’s moratorium to halt fracking (6.15.13: PA State Democratic Committee Passes Resolution to Support Fracking Moratoriume to search your sets – a set on Flickr).
And it’s remarkable that no candidate for the Democratic nomination for any office appeared in defense of the incredibly courageous folks who blockaded an Anadarko frack operation in Tiadaghton State Forest (THE WRENCH: Anadarko Liquidates Public Lands for Private Profits: Marcellus Shale Earth First Fights for All of Us at Tiadaghton).
But what is the most remarkable and the most telling are the campaign statements about natural gas production–and how easily we could simply swap them out for Governor Corbett’s own.
Tom Corbett promised he was going to do everything he could to make Pennsylvania an energy supplier to America and the rest of the world — and he’s delivered. Not only is Pennsylvania a leading producer of coal, utilizing clean-coal technology, but Pennsylvania is now the second-largest natural gas producer in the entire country.
And the benefits to Pennsylvanians have been nothing short of remarkable. The Marcellus Shale natural gas industry now supports over 200,000 direct and indirect Pennsylvania jobs. And that number is expected to continue growing.
But the benefits for Pennsylvanians are much greater than just jobs. Tom Corbett has made sure this growing industry is held accountable for following strict environmental guidelines, as well as ensuring local communities share in the economic benefits.
So far, the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry has paid over $400 million to local communities for their critical local projects, and an additional $2.1 billion in state corporate taxes, helping ensure we can keep taxes low for hardworking Pennsylvania families. It’s also resulted in lower energy bills for Pennsylvania families and seniors.Tom Corbett is keeping his promise to establish Pennsylvania as a leading energy supplier to America and the rest of the world. (http://www.tomcorbettforgovernor.com/energy).
Now, while we gasp at the arrogant mendacity of this set of claims, let’s look at Kathleen McGinty–a Pennsylvania revolving door frack-gas beneficiary if ever there was (Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania | Public Accountability Initiative):
CLEAR VALLEY, Pa.—Speaking today before the Lehigh Valley Chamber Energy and Environment Conference, Katie McGinty, Democratic candidate for governor, outlined a jobs plan to grow Pennsylvania’s economy by making Pennsylvania a leader in natural gas and clean and efficient energy development, while protecting the environment.
“I believe it’s Pennsylvania’s time to shine. We have an historic economic opportunity to develop Pennsylvania’s abundant supply of natural gas—while protecting the environment. But it would be shortsighted to have an energy policy that focused exclusively on a single resource. It’s time to make Pennsylvania the hotbed of energy innovation—where we can build a new industrial cluster to satisfy the world’s need for cleaner and more efficient energy. If we do this, we will grow Pennsylvania’s economy, create good-paying jobs, and improve the lives of hard-working families,” said McGinty, in another in a series of proposals to create jobs and improve the lives of Pennsylvania families.
McGinty was head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under Governor Ed Rendell and served as Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Clinton. In the private sector, McGinty has been a clean energy industry leader.
Clearly, with respect to natural gas development, there is no difference between Tom Corbett and Kathleen McGinty–no difference between Republicans and Democrats, no affirmation of the Democratic Party’s moratorium, and no recognition of the extent to which addressing every other issue facing Pennsylvanians depends on forcefully addressing this one.
But maybe I spoke too soon. Let’s see–there’s Rob Mc’Cord:
Pennsylvania is blessed by abundant natural resources. Protecting those resources and building a healthy and sustainable economy for Pennsylvania and future generations is of paramount importance to ensuing the state’s communities are safe and livable.
As governor, McCord will:
Ensure tough, but fair, oversight of natural gas drilling to prevent water contamination, preserve the land, and protect the state’s air.
Expand the development and use of clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectricity.
Protect the state’s waterways from pollution by ensuring strict safeguards against development, erosion, and industrial activity.
Invest in conservation practices and programs that preserve farmland and open spaces.
Make Pennsylvania a leader in green buildings and sustainable development that mitigates the impact of human activity on the environment.
Sound good? Only if (a) you think that cancer, endocrine disease, rashes, lung ailments, asthma, explosions, and climate change are “tough but fair,” and (b) you think a nod to renewables really means that fracking won’t simply continue on the same accelerated trajectory it is right now–waiting for the green light from export facilities like Cove Point (Protest at Annapolis: Dominion, Get Out of Cove Point, MD – a set on Flickr).
After all, Corbett has consistently promised the same things. As Scott Perry, Deputy Secretary, Office of Oil and Gas, Department of Environmental Protection tells us:
The truth is that right now under Gov. Corbett, Pennsylvania has the highest environmental protection standards for the unconventional gas industry in our history” (http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/letters/2013/11/27/Under-Corbett-Pa-has-strong-gas-regulations/stories/201311270072).
How About Allyson Schwartz?
The natural gas resources of the Marcellus Shale present the Commonwealth with an extraordinary opportunity. These resources belong to the people of Pennsylvania, who deserve a fair deal and a lasting positive legacy for the Commonwealth. This legacy should be world-class schools, a 21st century transportation network, clean and cheap energy, and new jobs that can power our economy for the future.
Governor Tom Corbett has turned his back on this opportunity. While giving gas companies tax breaks and charging a minimal impact fee, he cut nearly $1 billion from public education and slashed support for state universities. In addition, Governor Corbett has actively worked to shield gas companies from accountability. He has allowed these companies to hide information from the public about the chemicals they use and placed a notorious “gag order” on doctors. Even as Marcellus Shale development expands and well owners repeatedly violate environmental laws, Corbett has slashed funding for the Department of Environmental Protection and failed to enforce high standards.As governor, Schwartz will enact a moderate gas severance tax to support transformational investments in education, transportation, clean energy, and the people of Pennsylvania. And, she will act to protect our environment and the health of our families.
Translation: “Yeah for Gas! And yeah! for the myth that the gas is going to substantially benefit Pennsylvanians even though the evidence show the contrary:
1. From MSN Money, 8.21.13: “The one certainty about fracking, however, is that it doesn’t exactly do wonders for property values. As reported by The Atlantic, mortgage lenders are becoming more cautious about approving loans for properties near fracking sites. Lawyers, real estate agents, public officials and environmentalists have noted that banks and federal agencies are revisiting their lending policies to account for the potential impact of drilling on property values. In some cases they are refusing to finance property with or even near drilling activity.That’s particularly problematic, considering that many home insurance policies do not cover residential properties with a gas lease or gas well, though all mortgage companies require home insurance from their borrowers. Part of the problem stems from uncertainty over the effects of the process itself.” (http://money.msn.com/now/post–fracking-leaves-property-values-tapped-out)
2. From Tara Clarke of Monday Morning: “You might comfort yourself with the thought that there’s nothing in the news about people being harmed by fracking chemicals. No real data is coming out showing that fracking taints our water. Well, as it turns out, across the country drillers are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash settlements to silence people who say that fracking ruined their water. In return for the hush money, they must sign non-disclosure agreements.”At this point they [the companies] feel they can get out of this litigation relatively cheaply,” said Marc Bern, an attorney with Napoli Bern Ripka Sholnik LLP in New York, who has negotiated about 30 settlements on behalf of homeowners, in an interview for Bloomberg. “Virtually on all of our settlements where they paid money they have requested and demanded that there be confidentiality.” This strategy keeps real fracking data out of the public’s reach.With no public court hearings, and no Average Joe on local news channels talking about how he can light his drinking water on fire, it’s very difficult to challenge policymakers’ claims that fracking doesn’t cause ill-effects” (Drillers Pay Hush Money to Keep Their Fracking Secrets).
And then, of course, came the Hallowich case–but you don’t really see any of the Democratic candidates talking about that. The fact is that while Big Gas is making money hand over fist, they’re externalizing the costs to you and me–and none of the Democratic candidates make even a fleeting attempt to honestly own up to that fact.
Schwartz then repeats the line about protections, regulations, and enforcements–and she claims she’ll continue the moratorium on the Delaware River Basin. But anyone with a shred of social justice sense knows that that’s just code for “I’ll continue to privilege the wealthy over the poor, the affluent and politically powerful over the….poor.” Why? Because the only difference between the Delaware River Basin and the Susquehanna has nothing to do with geology, gas availability, or other ecological differences–and everything to do with the width of the wallets of the folks who live in one basin as opposed to the other.
Lastly is Tom Wolf:
Pennsylvania is sitting on one of the largest deposits of natural gas in the world, the Marcellus Shale formation, which stretches from our northeast to southwest corner. With new drilling techniques we can now efficiently unlock these massive natural gas deposits that lie beneath huge portions of our state.
Experts estimate there might be as much as 50 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas beneath Pennsylvania’s soil. That would make our commonwealth the Saudi Arabia of natural gas and, if managed correctly, transform our economy. Tom Wolf believes Marcellus Shale must be a key component of any plan for Pennsylvania’s economic future.
He then repeats the line about “responsible drilling”–an oxymoron if ever there was. Wolf offers a bit of balm in the direction of “community control” with respect to zoning. Note–he stops short of using fancy language like “rights.”
So what can we derive from this little tour through the frack-rhetoric of our candidates for governor of the Commonwealth?
It’s not just that there’s really no substantive difference between their claims and Corbett’s.
It’s not just that they plainly don’t see the connections I have laid out above between fracking–and every other issue facing Pennsylvanians.
It’s not even that they clearly do not see beyond the futures of their own immediate political careers to the larger issues facing the globe with respect to climate change.
It’s that while they claim to represent a choice between two parties for governor–at least on this vital issue–they don’t, even though effective action and policy on every other issue depends it.
So–here’s your real choice if you’re a Democrat:
Four frack-wolves in sheep’s clothing bleeting about regulation, severance taxes, oversight, jobs, prosperity….bleh bleh bleh.
Or, Tom Corbett–the wolf in the wolf outfit.
Not very encouraging, is it?
So here’s what you can do:
On every issue from education to health care, from soup to nuts, I’ll bet the Green Party is closer to your worldview as an anti-fracking, pro-renewables, progressive.
And on the most important issue facing Pennsylvanians–facing humanity–extreme fossil fuel extraction, the Green Party offers you the single most significant, morally defensible, solidly clear platform you’re going to see in this election:
So–you’re smart. You’re politically savvy. You know the facts. You care about your future. You care about your kid’s futures.
Don’t make me do another expose about where candidates get their money, or spell out what their crazy ideological and/or religious commitments.
GET ON BOARD.
VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE.
VOTE GREEN PARTY.
Green Party on the Issues