Clear as Fracked Water

In case anyone missed the mini-fight for control of the PA Democratic Party that unfolded over the June 20th weekend, here’s a recap.

Gov. Corbett’s campaign war chest is full of gas industry contributions, but  Democratic challenger, Tom Wolf‘s campaign received some, too.  On June 16, Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth, pointed out the hypocrisy of Jim Burn‘s, Chairman of the Democratic State Committee, denouncement of  Corbett for accepting campaign contributions from oil & gas industry when Wolf’s campaign received over $270,000 from people associated with that industry.  A coalition of anti-fracking groups led by Food & Water Watch Fund has suggested the contributions to the Democratic candidate should be returned to avoid the appearance of impropriety.  No word yet on how this might be resolved.
PA Democratic Party Chair, Jim Burn. Photo: PADems.com

Leadership of the Democratic Committee is determined after the primary elections. Normally, the Democratic nominee chooses the leadership of the party.  Tom Wolf nominated Katie McGinty but Jim Burn, the current Chairman, refused to step aside.  In an unprecedented step and in order to avoid in-fighting, Wolf and the state’s Democratic House of Representatives and Senate campaign committees, created a new PAC that is separate from the party organization.  The new PAC, headed by McGinty, is called “Campaign for a Fresh Start” and will control fund-raising. This news was announced on or about June 19th.

On June 20, Ed Rendell sharply criticized the Democratic State Committee (DSC) and Burn for not bowing to Wolf’s choice. On Saturday, June 21, Burn was re-elected as chairman of the DSC.  Burn gave a whole-hearted rally, supporting Tom Wolf, but Wolf did not attend the event.  As a result of the creation of the new PAC, the DSC’s role in the November gubernatorial and congressional elections will be greatly diminished; nonetheless, it has vowed to work cooperatively to get Democrats elected and re-elected.
So what does this mean for those of us who think fracking is unsafe and should be banned?  Perhaps time will clear the muddy waters but, for now, there are just a lot of unanswered questions.
In June of last year, the PA Democratic Caucus voted  115-81 to support a moratorium on fracking and the PA Democratic Party so resolved, yet incomprehensibly, all the Democratic candidates who ran in the primary supported fracking!  Tom Wolf supports a severance tax and more oversight for the industry but does not support a ban.  Does the June 19-21 schism within the party have to do with this issue?  Is the schism related to the odious acceptance of campaign contributions from oil & gas interests?
Ed Rendell was the Governor when fracking in PA began and helped it gain a foothold. McGinty and Wolf were both in Rendell’s cabinet;  McGinty was the head of the Dept. of Environmental Resources until 2008 and Wolf was the head of the Dept of Revenue for a year. Since leaving public office, Rendell went back to work at Ballard Spahr, a Philadelphia law firm that provides legal services to hydraulic fracturing industry clients.  In 2011, Rendell became an Operating Partner in Element Partners that invests in cleantech and companies that support hydraulic fracturing such as 212 Resources, Detechtion, and Environmental Drilling Solutions. Since Rendell has ties to the fracking industry, does his criticism of Burn and support of McGinty and Wolf shed light on this matter?
Polls show that a majority of Pennsylvanians want fracking banned.  Many Democrats hope to influence Wolf’s policies on fracking before November, by working within the party.  Is this hope a pipe dream now? Is the new PAC a way for Wolf to assert his independence from the party’s rank and file?
Finally, and most importantly, will the new “Campaign for a Fresh Start” (which now controls campaign contributions for all Democratic congressional candidates and Tom Wolf) accept corrupting money from oil & gas?  When this question is answered, everything will become crystal clear.
The only gubernatorial candidate who supports a ban on fracking is Green Party candidate, Paul Glover.   Remember this in November and vote like your drinking water depends on it.

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4 Comments on Clear as Fracked Water

  1. Letter to my union–APSCUF (Associated Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty)–in response to the APSCUF endorsement of Tom Wolf for Governor:

    Dear Tyler Marks, APSCUF CAP Chair, and Bloomsburg University faculty,

    At the bottom of this post is APSCUF’s request to contribute to CAP for the support of Democrat Gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf.

    I would like to make out four arguments to discourage that contribution–and to discourage you from voting for what is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. To be clear, this is NOT an argument for voting for Tom Corbett, but Mr. Wolf is not the alterntative you may think he is–at least if you care about education, the environment, and human health.

    ARGUMENT ONE: Mr. Wolf supports a tax on the form of natural gas extraction called slickwater hydraulic fracturing–fracking. I’d suggest that this would be a disaster for the Commonwealth. Here’s why:

    1. A tax on natural gas extraction via fracking will institutionalize the industry by making social programs dependent on its revenue stream. However much the industry resists it, they know that any tax will have this positive effect for them–and so their resistance is feigned and simply aimed at the lowest tax possible. The amount of the tax has no real bearing on the extent to which it institutionalizes the industry as part of the state’s internal revenue structure.

    2. Wolf is the best thing that could happen to the gas industry–far better than Corbett–because while the duped are celebrating Wolf’s imposing a tax, the industry will go about their dirty business as usual–but with the added bonus that they now have the cover of legitimacy behind a painless tax that will guarantee their presence in the state forever–or until they leave us a spent industrialized wasteland. Corbett could never have lent them this cover.

    3. Taxing the industry will actively encourage even less regulation. The formula is simple” Imposing a tax=insuring dependence of social programs=pressure to generate more revenue=pressure for the industry to make more money=weakening regulations. In other words, the more dependence, the more pressure to generate greater tax revenues, and because the tax as a percentage of profit is never going to amount to anything substantial, the thing that’s going to have to give is the regulations and their enforcement. When you add to this the fact that–as this article demonstrates once again–the regulations are meaningless and unenforceable now, just imagine what that will mean given the institutionalization of the industry. Welcome to Texas.

    4. Once the industry is institutionalized in the state’s tax structure, they will be able to exert pressure like never before. They will be in a position to level substantive threats of withdrawal and whoever is governor will cave to the threat precisely because essential social programs–and (thanks to Wolf) funding for education will now be tied to gas tax revenue. The regulations will then be enforced even less, more and more Democrats will jump on board for horrendous bills like the gutting of the state’s endangered species act–and representative like yourself will have paved the way for the future industrialization of the state including the further erosion of property rights, rights to clean air and water, rights to speak out against the industry. In short, an invitation to become part of the state’s essential economic wherewithal in an invitation to corporate hegemony.

    5. (1)-(4) can have only one conclusion: more fracking including all of its dirty and damaging infrastructure. (http://thewrenchphilosleft.blogspot.com/2014/06/the-road-paved-with-frack-tax-dollars.html).

    ARGUMENT TWO: What happens in the state with respect to natural gas extraction WILL affect avery other important issue facing Pennsylvanians:

    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. (http://thewrenchphilosleft.blogspot.com/2014/03/when-it-comes-to-fracking-mcginty.html).

    ARGUMENT THREE: Support of Tom Wolf is contrary to APSCUF’s stated position on fracking: Please see attached.

    ARGUMENT FOUR: Tom Wolf is just one more political aspirant for whom winning is far more important than doing the right thing. And if we think that the amount of money he’s willing to take from the gas companies will not affect every other policy decision of his administration, we are being fools. From Sean Kitchen of Raging Chicken Press:

    “In response to Jim Burn’s unwillingness to step down to Katie McGinty’s challenge for the chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee, Tom Wolf established the “Campaign for a Fresh Start PAC,” and named Katie McGinty as the leader of the newly minted political action committee. The previous week, an environmental group, Food & Water Watch, reported that Tom Wolf’s gubernatorial campaign received at least $273,000, the majority of which came after Tom Wolf began to run away with the gubernatorial primary, from those associated with the natural gas industry and the Marcellus Shale Coalition. These two events, appointing Katie McGinty as the head of his newly established political action committee and the revelations of how much in campaign contributions that Tom Wolf has received from the fossil fuels industry, should have progressives and environmentalists, who were a part of Tom Wolf’s winning coalition, concerned about the direction of the campaign” (http://ragingchickenpress.org/2014/06/23/pagov-tom-wolfs-fracking-problems/).

    While a vote for Wolf may be a vote against Corbett–it is NOT a vote for the value of higher education, clean water and air, or the good health of Pennsylvanians. What’s worse is that the gas companies are fully prepared to use Mr. Wolf as COVER for business as usual in the shale fields. As the hard evidence mounts against this foul form of fossil fuel extraction and its contribution to climate change, Mr. Wolf is nothing but an opportunity to greenwash the ongoing destruction of the state.

    A union must stand not merely for the narrow interests of its members, but for the principles that inform our commitment to education. Among those principles is a commitment to the future of our students and the welfare of the state. Tom Wolf stands for neither.

    Wendy Lynne Lee

  2. I challenge the statement here and elsewhere that the incoming gubernatorial candidate “normally gets to choose the chair.” Burn was not chosen by Onorato last time. There was a 3 person race for chair 4 years ago and finally 2 dropped out and Burn was our selection. This time McGinty and her team clearly did not have the votes from the 299 assembled delegates prior to state committee meeting and she dropped out. Burn is doing an excellent job and the committee recognized his leadership style as not being top-down. Burn continues to lead our Party and Wolf is our candidate. The whole matter would be much to do about nothing if it weren’t for the mainstream media’s relentless search for distractions and controversy. The media should dig into the contributions, etc., but the rest is a matter for people elected to state committee–whether Rendell likes it or not. Rendell and his gang do not run this party any longer. He can run for committeeman next time and work hard like all the rest of the committee people do to help influence the direction of the Party—from the bottom up. Yeah, it’s a little more difficult that way, Ed. But it is democratic, with a small “d”……

  3. Wendy—as a future politician—you may need to learn to use shorter messages and bumper sticker phrases. The American public is not up to reading a treatise. They should be, but they have 3 jobs to get to and a bunch of kids to which they need attend. Modern America is moving toward 3rd world status, thanks to the corporate/right-wing decimation of what we once had—a decent society with opportunity and decent paying jobs. Koch Brothers/Fox and other Republican loonies are pushing us even farther to the right because average hard-working Americans don’t have the time to evaluate what is going on—–they think they can fend for themselves–that there is no anti-middle class agenda by the corporate rulers—but they are in for a rude surprise. I just registered 2 Republican politicians to Dems (yeah, maybe Green would be even better), but they told me the Republicans are just plain “nuts.” Maybe this is a beginning! Just make sure the corporate tentacles do not reach any farther into the Dem Party than they do now. Corporate rule is the real agenda. We the People are the biggest obstacle to the complete corporate takeover of America/PA/local communities. Thanks for fighting the battle!

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