Tim Holden Is Fracking Up Pennsylvania
Wednesday we looked at the beginning of a campaign the Blue America PAC is putting together to help residents of PA-17, where I used to live, understand Rep. Tim Holden's role in the fracking crisis. Holden, a shady Blue Dog and a corporate reactionary, has taken $688,999 from the finance industry and $414,997 from Big Oil and Gas. Holden has taken even more money from AgriBusiness and he's scooping up checks like mad this year to fight off his first serious electoral challenge ever. [One of the company's eager to keep Holden in Congress is AT&T, which has given House Republicans $896,121 this year and House Democrats $443,750. $5,000 of that went to Holden.] And today Mark Schwayder, an exceptionally notorious and sleazy AT&T lobbyist, is helping Steny Hoyer-- who AT&T finances lavishly-- put on two events in Pennsylvania for Holden, one in Nazareth and one in Easton, cities where they don't know Holden from a hole in the wall.
In Wednesday's post we looked at Part II of Walter Brasch's powerful examination into the impact of fracking; that was a look at the health and environmental impact. Today we're looking at Brasch's assertion that corrupt is part and parcel of the fracking movement in Pennsylvania.
The history of energy exploration, mining, and delivery is best understood in a range from benevolent exploitation to worker and public oppression. A company comes into an area, leases land in rural and agricultural areas for mineral rights, increases employment, usually in a depressed economy, strips the land of its resources, creates health problems for its workers and those in the immediate area, and then leaves.
It makes no difference if it’s timber, oil, or coal. In the 1970s and 1980s, the nuclear energy industry promised well-paying jobs, clean energy, and a safe health and work environment. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima Daiichi, and thousands of violations issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, have shown that even with strict operating guidelines, nuclear energy isn’t as clean and safe as claimed. Like all other energy industries, nuclear power isn’t infinite. Most plants have a 40–50 year life cycle. After that, the plant becomes so radioactive hot that it must be sealed.
In the early 21st century, the natural gas industry follows the model of the other energy corporations, and uses the same rhetoric. James M. Taylor, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, claims on the Institute’s website, “The newfound abundance of domestic gas reserves promises unprecedented energy prosperity and security.”
However, mixed into the state’s energy production is not only a symbiotic relationship of business and government, but a history of corruption and influence-peddling. Between 1859, when an economical method to drill for oil was developed near Titusville, Pa., and 1933, the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Pennsylvania, under almost continual Republican administration, was among the nation’s most corrupt states. The robber barons of the timber, oil, coal, steel, and transportation industries essentially bought their right to be unregulated. In addition to widespread bribery, the energy industries, especially coal, assured the election of preferred candidates by giving pre-marked ballots to workers, many of whom didn’t speak English.
In a letter to the editor of the New York Times in March 2011, John Wilmer, a former attorney for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), explained that “Pennsylvania’s shameful legacy of corruption and mismanagement caused 2,500 miles of streams to be totally dead from acid mine drainage; left many miles of scarred landscape; enriched the coal barons; and impoverished the local citizens.” His words serve as a warning about what is happening in the natural gas fields.
The energy policy during the eight years of the Bush–Cheney administration was to give favored status to the industry, often at the expense of the environment. In addition to negating Bill Clinton’s strong support for the Kyoto Protocol, signed by 191 countries, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, former oil company executives Bush and Cheney pushed to open significant federal land, including the 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), to drilling that would disrupt the ecological balance in one of the nation’s most pristine areas.
A study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), published in 2004 concluded that fracking was of little or no risk to human health. However, Wes Wilson, a 30-year EPA environmental engineer, in a letter to members of Congress and the EPA inspector general, called that study “scientifically unsound,” and questioned the bias of the panel, noting that five of the seven members had significant ties to the industry. “EPA’s failure to regulate [fracking] appears to be improper under the Safe Water Drinking Act and may result in danger to public health and safety.”
The following year, the Energy Policy Act of 2005, approved by about three-fourths of U.S. senators, exempted the oil and natural gas industry from the Safe Water Drinking Act. That exemption applied to the “construction of new well pads and the accompanying new roads and pipelines.” The National Defense Resource Council noted that the EPA interpreted the exemption “as allowing unlimited discharges of sediment into the nation’s streams, even where those discharges contribute to a violation of state water quality standards.” The exemption became known derisively as the Halliburton Loophole, named for one of the nation’s major energy companies, of which Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose promotion of Big Business and opposition to environmental policies is well-documented, had once been the CEO.
Bills introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 2766) and U.S. Senate (S. 1215) in June 2009 to give federal regulatory oversight under the Safe Water Drinking Act to hydraulic fracturing languished. New bills (H.R. 1084 and S. 587), introduced in March 2011 in the 112th Congress, are also expected to die without a vote.
The natural gas industry has a long history of effective lobbying at the state and national level. America’s Natural Gas Alliance has four former Congressmen as lobbyists, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Through various political action committees (PACs), the industry has contributed about $238.7 million in campaign contributions, about three-fourths of it to Republican candidates, since 1990, according to the CRP. For the 2008 election, the gas and oil industry contributed $27.4 million, including contributions from individuals, PACs, and soft money, according to CRP data. Total contributions for the current election cycle, as of mid-March, are $20.6 million, with almost 90 percent of it going to Republicans.
At the federal level, the top recipients of oil and gas contributions during the current election cycle, according to the CRP, are former presidential hopeful Gov. Rick Perry of Texas ($833,674), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst of Texas ($650,850), presidential hopeful Mitt Romney ($597,950), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ($264,700), and Sen. John Barasso of Wyoming ($225,400), a member of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Every one of the top 20 recipients is a Republican.
House Members generally don't cost as much-- unless you're Speaker Boehner, who sucked up $735,805 in this cycle alone. Of the 25 top recipients of these bribes in the House, 23 are Republicans... and then comes Blue Dog Jason Altmire ($140,099) and Steny Hoyer ($131,500). Holden is a notoriously cheap date. He helped push through the Halliburton Loophole and continues to push the Gas Industry's agenda and all they had to pay him was $34,000 (at least so far this year).
Meanwhile, Blue America has a new Facebook page dedicated to Holden, and a new Act Blue page, Fracking Holden. Consider helping is with our fracking billboards in eastern Pennsylvania at the ActBlue page.