Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Of Justice and Rainbows, of Suffering and Compassion: A New Year's Letter to Bill Huston

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

December 30th, 2014. 

Dear Bill:

I have reflected a good deal on your recent observations about justice and compassion:


Indeed, these last days of 2014's December have afforded me much opportunity to think about the reality (or, as you insist, the illusion) of justice, and the relationship between it and compassion. As I pen these words, I am doing everything I can to provide comfort and compassion to an animal I love immensely--an elderly iguana for whom I have cared the best I could for nearly 15 years, who is dying, and for whom justice would have been a life in the tropical forests of his species. I would gladly--however painfully--have given up Mr. Luv Lizard to that more natural life could it have been possible. It was not--so I offered him all I had to give--fresh greens and fruit, scratches behind his gills, a big habitat with ladders and branches, company and compassion--and this is manifestly not enough.

These things matter--greatly.

What I have to tell you is simple--and I will offer to my strong claims argument and example:

First, you are wrong about the reality of justice. 

You say this:

Huston: In my world, justice isn't real. It's illusive, like rainbows. Justice is an IDEA ONLY. It's mind stuff. Story-realm. It does not exist in the real, observable world.
Justice and rainbows--and suffering and compassion are quite real. Rainbows are the manifestation of physical phenomena--no "metaphysical forces" need to be "at work," and that science can demystify and explain their causes makes them more radiant and beautiful, not less. Nonetheless, justice and compassion are in some ways even more real than rainbows.  These are not merely feelings, sentiments, or dispositions. Feelings we simply have; justice and compassion are principled drivers to action. They are realized imperfectly to be sure--but that does not detract from their reality; it instantiates it. 

The reality of my compassion is registered in Mr. Luv Lizard's eyes when I sing to him. The gross injustice of the condition that brought him to me 15 years ago is as systemic as that which governs the factory farms, the shale fields, the GMOs, the prison system, the global exploitation of indigenous peoples, and our endless thirst for war. That gross injustice manifests itself in the commodification of living things--indeed all things--for the sake of profits and power. It makes of life an object to be marketed and sold--abandoned at obsolescence, rebranded for "price points." 

Injustice is appallingly real. 

 If justice is by contrast mere illusion, we ought to greet the new year with suicide. 

Second, your claim that justice is "illusive" is hypocrisy in at least two ways:

(a) what you say--that justice is an illusion--is manifestly not what you do--you would not be as committed in tangible action as you are to ending the injustice of carbon extraction did you think it merely "illusive."

(b) what you do--make judgments about the actions of others committed to justice--not only illustrates that you believe in its reality, but that you take yourself to be authoritative--however contradictory--about it and about those who'd undertake risk to see justice come to fruition--something over which the Buddhist in you would surely quake. 

You tell me this:

Huston: I can see you are an academic and an intellectual. That's all head stuff.

Such claims are arrogant and dismissive; they presuppose that you are in a position to make that judgment and that "head stuff" is inferior to your claims to justice as "illusion." What grounds have you to make such a claim other than that you take yourself to be a rational judge? How is that not about the reality of justice? In truth you desire to make of justice just what it needs to be to privilege you as judge--and that is hypocrisy.

You say that this "head stuff" is "your tendency also," as if acknowledging familiarity ameliorates the sting of your dismissive observation. It does not. In fact, it reasserts it since you go on to  claim that through "many years of studying Yoga, meditation, NVC, etc. and doing body-work" you're "realizing that the head often gets in the way of happiness." If so, then you've no judgment to make about anything or anyone--that requires you use your head. If you really believe this, you'd be better off to retreat to the cheery silence of your own council.  But instead you reserve the righteous audacity to tell me what I ought to believe about reality, that my education is inferior to your meditative insight, that happiness is a state of mind disconnected from the world--avoiding the longing for "illusions" like justice--and that you hope you have been "helpful."

This is not helpful, Bill--not to me, not to all of our friends and allies who have worked so diligently to end at least one form of injustice--the carbon extraction that poisons our air and water and promises our children a future in the remake of Mad Max. It'd be an easy thing to simply ask you why you think yourself to be my father, and be done with it--but the facts are that you speak for too many who'd follow you to this smug and vaguely  cadaverous resignation--masquerading as spiritual enlightenment.

Third, it is rank hypocrisy to laud the New York governor's decision to ban High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) on the basis of the science and then insist that what is now required is a two-week protest "truce" with companies like Crestwood--whose plans to construct a gas storage facility on lake Seneca threaten the health and welfare of every citizen in the Finger Lakes--because "metaphysical forces" are at work.

In his original Facebook post, Bill says this (quoted in total, without alteration):

Friends-- I am so lucky to know amazing leaders of great wisdom. My 3x top advisors are all saying Two Week Truce, followed by gobs of gratitude, praise, and adoration. 
I am hearing much disagreement to this strategy. Understandable, considering how many of our communities are being destroyed by various fracking infrastructure (Waste, Storage, Pipelines, Compressors, etc) 
But I beg you to consider the possible lasting effects of the two different paths. After days of deliberation and introspection, I have come to agree with this.
Friends, let's put down our swords and shields for a minute and let's have a little victory party! And use positive feedback to affirm behaviors we are requesting. This is not the time to make demands. Unless you want to not be heard,... forever. Unless you want to push away an adversary. The other framing is to welcome and reward a friend with praise. This is extremely important to consider. One is the way of Grace and Compassion. The other way is of hatred and separation. Which is the position of greater power? 
There are metaphysical forces at work here. This framing and naming is more important than many realize. What we think and say really comes true! This knowledge carries a great responsibility and duty of nonviolence and service, and the wishing for wellness of all beings.

 The truce refers to the ongoing action at Lake Seneca where Crestwood plans to construct the gas storage facility. That there's disagreement is hardly surprising:

(a) there's no such thing as calling a truce with an enemy who at the first sign of weakness will roll its big trucks right over you. Crestwood will see this as capitulation--just like they've no doubt been hoping would be provided to them by the cold.

(b) throwing gobs of "gratitude, praise, and adoration" at Governor Cuomo is misplaced. Had he deserved that, he'd have converted the moratorium into a ban years ago. Thank him for listening to the science--finally. Recognize that the science is precisely what's relevant to Crestwood's endangering of Lake Seneca, and get on with the protest. 

(c) to appeal to "metaphysical forces" has no more credibility than, say, the claims of a Gilbert Ross of the bogus American Council on Science and Health who claims that he "will debunk the sorry, lame excuses offered by NY State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and his so-called report on fracking"(http://marcellusdrilling.com/2014/12/ny-landowners-fight-back-against-cuomo-frack-ban-rally-on-jan-5/). 

Both rely on premises that provide no empirical support, and both are driven by ideological agendas. That "metaphysical forces" alludes to the supernatural, and Ross' reference to "so-called report" is pro-drilling is irrelevant--both assume their conclusions in advance of their claims, and hence neither are open to facts, especially disconfirming ones.

The response I offered to Bill--the one that solicited his denial that there is such a thing as justice and the smug shot at my being an "intellectual" as if that were a crime--was this:

I respect Bill greatly, but NO NO. First, these two ways pose a false dichotomy. Resistance to injustice is not hatred. It is righteous anger.

 And compassion without justice is arrogant and can do great harm.

 This is absolutely the time to make demands.

 We must demand that fracking end. End everywhere.

 Indeed, I think it would be the height of the worse sort of NIMBY myopathy to allow to languish the momentum from the NY ban.

 These are not metaphysical forces at work here. They're perfectly comprehensible and we know them. They are the manifestations of unfettered greed combined with systemic privilege actualized via technological advance.

 It's one thing to wish for the wellness of all beings. It's quite another to actively work for the justice of condition that makes that possible. To do anything other than get clearer about the message that all things fracking must be banned, and then to redouble our efforts...nonviolent but aggressive and unyielding....is to forfeit the well being of those who look to us for aid and assurance. If we squander this momentum, we are effectively abandoning a responsibility we willingly assumed.

 I will not. I cannot.

 I will gladly forfeit the thin gruel of grace for the far heartier and more satisfying stew of justice. We'll have plenty of time for that grace after we have won the war for water and air. But if we lose, the tiny few who have the luxury of that meditation do so at the expense of a planet despoiled. On that planet "all beings" amount to the few who can wrap themselves in platitudes while the rest of us burn.

And there you have it. In effect, Bill is calling the pursuit of justice "the way of hatred." And--in utter contradiction--he is calling a truce we can surely know will collapse our momentum and scatter our reserves--justice. It's a bizarre sort of justice that would squander the most empowering decision we have to date: New York's Fracking Ban.

There is no truce to call unless we are prepared to turn our backs on a Pennsylvania family who received this letter just this November from Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE) (I have left the names redacted to protect the family from their leased neighbors):

November 24th, 2014 

Pennsylvania General Energy is planning the drilling of one or more oil and/or gas wells of your property in  Roulette Township, Potter County... Due to the proximity of your properties to our oil and gas well(s), the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") regulations require that we test your residential water supply(ies) (all sources). We have therefore enclosed the following for your review:

a. A Two page form asking your sampling preferences that, when signed by you, gives the laboratory permission to sample your water supply.

b A two page questionnaire asking some specific questions about your water supply.

c. A one page description of the water sampling process.

d. The DEP's standardized notification of the Surface landowner/Water Purveyor of Well Drilling Operation or Alteration. The letter informs you of certain rights you have under Pennsylvania law.

We request that you answer the questions on the two forms, sign them in the space provided, and send them to us within ten days of your receipt of this letter in the enclosed postage-paid envelope...
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me toll free...

The proposed well pad is 1008 ft. from the family's house. One Thousand and Eight Feet. With permission, here's the Google Map:


This is a typical letter from a typical story that illustrates the very real injustice faced by very real Pennsylvania families every single damn day. Note carefully that this family isn't being offered any choice at all about whether the drilling is going to transpire or where--1008 ft from their home

And this family isn't likely dickering around with metaphysical indulgences about whether justice is real--they know that injustice is being drilled right into the backyard of the neighbor who leased his land within the earshot, odor range, and visual eyesore of their drinking water well.

They're not likely to extend a hand to PGE.

They're moving.

What on earth gives us the right to declare a truce with an industry that does this to families?

What on earth sanctions us with the luxury of asking the newly minted Gas Wolf Governor of Pennsylvania--Tom Wolf--to not frack our state parks--all the while we gladly sacrifice this family to the carbon extractors? 

Who do we think we are spouting metaphysical platitudes about the unreality of justice when people, their animals, their water, and their lands are being fucked over?

My message to those who speak of "truce," to those who'd advocate for "regulation," to those who insist that "tolerance" means acceding to every perspective as equal even when it paralyzes action, to those who think a "moratorium" to wait for the science now that the science is in makes any sense is this:

You are as responsible for harm to this family as is the industry. 

Your pitch to "compassion" is naught but an excuse to avoid risk. Your tacit concession to the notion that justice depends on opinion is capitulation to injustice of the worst sort, namely, that injustice which could have been prevented if we were less worried about "everyone getting along," and about "playing nice" than we are about seeing to it that this family is not destroyed.

A last word on forces:

It is precisely the same forces at work who'd disrupt and despoil this family's life that made of my now elderly iguana an object for sale as a baby lizard. 

These forces have nothing about them of the metaphysical. They are as real as is justice--and injustice. They are as real as the greed that converts the living into the commodity, the conditions of the future into a cost/benefit analysis for the expedient present, and the once beautiful planet into a toilet for those whose money buys them the power to turn the rest of us into disposable shit.

It is no time for truce.

It is time for the insurgence of those who live their commitments to justice.

On to 2015.

 Wendy Lynne Lee

2,518 words.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Fireside Chat Between Governors: Andrew Cuomo Instructs Pennsylvania's New Tom About the Value of Human Rights

Winter Vista, Adirondacks, New York State
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

*UPDATE* State Impact Interview: http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2014/12/18/wolf-new-yorks-fracking-ban-is-unfortunate/

What's most striking about Pennsylvania Governor Elect Wolf's claim in a State Impact interview is that Governor Cuomo's decision to ban HVHF in New York State is "unfortunate" is Wolf's admission that he "wants to have his cake and eat it too," effectively acknowledging that Pennsylvania will not be able to protect the health of its citizens and promote the objectives of the carbon extraction industry. After all, when we use that language--have your cake and eat it too--what we generally mean is that you can't

What Wolf makes clear is that "having his cake" is "protecting" the Delaware River Basin--the stronghold of his Democrat voting base--while continuing the sacrifice of the Susquehanna River Basin--"eating it too." The difference between these two? Socio-Economic status--or to put it more plainly: the Susquehanna River Basin is home to poorer folks--and that makes them more dispensable. 

No doubt, the governor would deny this elitism--but he can't.

The very same reasoning applies to the state parks and forests: preserve (what's left) of the "special places" of those who have the money and the leisure to enjoy them; make them into dioramas that a few folks can stroll through to convince themselves that we did something. Then, allow pipeline companies like Williams to convert a profit venture for LNG export like the Atlantic Sunrise into a "public utility" for the purposes of seizure via eminent domain for the rest of us--destroying our property values and despoiling our land and water.

As for the creation of a health registry: our response should be nothing but disdainful incredulity. What is the purpose of providing a registry of more instances of contaminated wells and streams, blow-outs, asthma, cancer other than to insure that future historians shake their head is disgust at our greed? What good will it do us to know that we've been poisoned when all we can do is decry it--but not put an end to the assault?

How many of the sick, dying, dead does Wolf need to see before he decides that the New York ban isn't "unfortunate"?

Do we really have any reason to trust Wolf--given the $273,000 he took in gas-soaked campaign donations--including money from IREX whose mission it is to gut the Clean Air Act--to make Department of Health (DOH) complaints concerning frack infrastructure "transparent"?


(1) The item on the top of Wolf's wish list is an extraction tax that will institutionalize the industry sewing it right into the tax base--making the gas thugs impossible--ironically--to extract, and making regulation even less likely since less oversight means more revenue.

(2) Wolf says in the State Impact interview that he's directing his transition team to review the New York Health Report. That, we have to say, would be laughable did it not portend ongoing tragedy. The Wolf transition team is an all-star cast right out of the gas industry (http://thewrenchphilosleft.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-big-gas-wolf-his-new-pack-of.html).

The only thing more "unfortunate" than Governor Elect Wolf's willful acts of blindness are the activists who still try to convince the rest of us that he can be persuaded to change his mind. 

Activist: folks who wring their fists, hold up signs, create petitions demanding change--and then go home and tell each other they did the best they could having accomplished little more than the consumptive waste of precious time and energy.

Insurgent: what we need much more of.

Wolf depends on our remaining activists.
Here's the original:

12.17.14: Today New York Governor Cuomo announces that there will be no HVHF--High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing--in New York State.

As the New York Times reports:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of uncertainty over the controversial method of natural gas extraction.
State officials concluded that fracking, as the method is known, could contaminate the air and water and pose inestimable dangers to public health. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/nyregion/cuomo-to-ban-fracking-in-new-york-state-citing-health-risks.html?_r=1).
The hero of the day was acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker:
In a presentation at the cabinet meeting, the acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, said the examination had found “significant public health risks” associated with fracking.
Holding up scientific studies to animate his arguments, Dr. Zucker listed concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and said there was insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the long-term safety of fracking.
Dr. Zucker said his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want to live in a community that allowed fracking?
He said the answer was no. 
Zucker said. “The potential risks are too great. In fact, they are not even fully known.”
And that was that. As Cuomo put it himself, "it wasn't really his decision." No fracking in New York--possibly ever.

There's much to celebrate here, but first a couple of caveats:

First, this does not mean that the fight over Crestwood's bid to use Lake Seneca for LPG storage--at the immense risk to health, road safety and ecological integrity--is over at Watkin's Glen. Indeed, the struggle to preserve this magnificent chunk of the Finger Lakes may even intensify as Crestwood doubles down to make sure it's own dirty gambit is not threatened by the governor's decision. At 100 arrests for civil disobedience and counting, we have much to learn from these brave folks--teachers, doctors, professors,

Protest at Crestwood facility gates
10.24.14. Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
wine-makers, retired folks, working people, students.

Second, Cuomo's decision does not mean that New York doesn't remain home to all manner of other frack-related infrastructure--including their own pipeline fights, sand production, etc. Indeed, that's what Crestwood is no doubt banking on--ban or no ban. So--we want to be clear about what exactly we're celebrating--but, we do and must celebrate every win.

Just as a reminder of that second point, here's a photograph from a protest at Horseheads--a frack sand transport depot:

Protest Horseheads, NY, late Summer 2012
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

Imagine, if you will, a conversation--a Winter's eve fireside chat--between Governor Cuomo and Governor elect Wolf over the New York fracking ban. Imagine especially in light of the following:

1. No health or safety study of any kind preceded the Pennsylvania fracking boom. There were no gatekeepers, no one watching out for the health and welfare of the state's citizens, no one to defend the state parks, game lands, mobile home communities, your private property. No one with any sort of power from either party raised a single objection to the invasion of the gas companies. Before we knew what sort of anvil had fallen on our heads, they were already drilling out our brains.

2. With the election of Governor Corbett was game-on. In the name of the "free market," energy independence," and "national security, it became essentially unpatriotic to object to "drill, baby, drill." A nascent and fairly disheveled anti-fracking movement was beginning to take shape--but we could not get clear on a message, and we just didn't seem to get the fundamental difference between regulation--that gives the green light to the gas industries--and demanding a ban--telling the gassers to go take a hike. Still don't. Even as the anecdotal but horrifying evidence begins to pile up--243 established reports of contaminated wells, the list of the harmed, an uptick in traffic accidents near well pads, rashes, asthma, etc. etc., the Pennsylvania movement just can't seem to get up its collective Chutzpah to decry the corporatist state's complete abandonment of its duties to clean air and water. What role a culture of post-traumatic resignation due to the wholesale destruction by the coal industry and before that the loggers, I don't know. But what I do know is that we were raped by this industry before we knew what was happening, and we just did not get up and really fight. And, while I respect very much my allies and friends who caution me about about the use of the word "rape," I am going to keep it because it signals the profound and irrecoverable wrong done to us by this industry. Just as the rapist deprives his victim of the integrity of her body (something I know firsthand), so too the gas industry deprives living things the integrity of that body upon whom we all depend--that of the earth, its soil, water and air.

3. New York instituted a moratorium before the first frackers could set foot on the soil of the Empire State citing the unknown potentially hazardous effects on human health. This set the wheels in motion for (a) a populist movement that still burns bright on the renewable fuel called hope--a fact whose import cannot be overestimated--and (b) the massive and comprehensive survey of the studies Dr. Zucker cites in his report to Governor Cuomo, a report that is every bit as relevant to Pennsylvania, and Colorado, and Ohio, and Michigan, and Wyoming, and Texas as it is to New York.

4. Despite a number of angst-ridden iterations of "Will the New York moratorium hold?" it did.

5. Hell-bent on electing some other "Tom," Pennsylvanians elected Tom Wolf, a Democrat whose affection for the gas not only rivals outgoing governor Tom Corbett's, but will potentially out-do it since, if Wolf gets his way with an extraction tax, the industry will become entrenched in the state's tax base. Education will become dependent on it 'til the boom goes bust, and then the industry will do what it was always going to do: leave. Leave a wasteland that will make the border between New York and Pennsylvania seem like that between a corpse and a living human being; and in many ways, that will be literally true. Wolf's environmental transition team reads like the board of directors of any Big Gas company, as I documented here: http://thewrenchphilosleft.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-big-gas-wolf-his-new-pack-of.html. While New Yorkers still stand a chance of getting to sip fabulous Chardonnays and watch the sunset on their gorgeous Finger Lakes, Pennsylvanians will be lamenting their contaminated  wells, their loss of property value, and the fact that they didn't stand up and take a principled stand--even if that meant re-enacting a scene from Selma Alabama in the 1960s. 

6. Lastly, the New York ban could actually portend an uptick in the urgency of gettin' the gas outta the ground in Pennsylvania. As it sinks into the industry that some folks--at least New Yorkers--may be catching onto the fact that this drilling infrastructure in incompatible with life, they'll want to get their frack on at an even more accelerated pace. Indeed, Wolf wasted no time responding to Cuomo's decision. As reported by PoliticsPA: 
“Governor-elect Wolf opposes a ban, and he will work hard to make sure the process is safe,” responded Jeffrey Sheridan, Press Secretary for Wolf’s transition team.
“Pennsylvania’s natural resources should help the commonwealth become an energy leader, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as a magnet for investment and job creation,” he continued. “Governor-elect Wolf’s priority is to ensure that Pennsylvania is an energy leader with all Pennsylvanians sharing in the prosperity. http://www.politicspa.com/pa-gov-wolf-reiterates-support-for-fracking-after-ny-ban/62505/

As I've argued elsewhere, this "have your cake and eat it too" strategy spells ecological doom for Pennsylvania since--as is now strengthened considerably by Zucker's findings--there is no safe HVHF. Add to that the pressure to regulate less in order to generate even more revue towards Wolf's second term election, that means Pennsylvanians may well be in for, even less oversight--even less time for PA-Citizens to get their act together for a collective and definitive--arrest me if you must--NO MORE.

So--what would this fireside chat look like?

Cuomo: My gosh--what a day I had! Settling that fracking business once and for all. Thank goodness Zucker is so on his game. Didn't really leave me any choice, and that's fine by me.
Wolf: Well, Andrew, that's all very nice for you, but I have to fix the mess my predecessor made cutting funding to education. After all, that's what we Dems do.
Cuomo: I hear you brother, but you know, some of those science studies really are pretty condemning. Don't you PA folks have some article attached to your Constitution about the right to clean air and water?
Wolf: Yes, yes--but, Andrew, the Frackity Mc'Frack horse is already out of the barn! We're at 8200 wells and counting our way to 400,000. Plus, the only "movement" against the industry we really have in PA doesn't actually do much of anything but stand on the steps of the Capitol occasionally--blocking access to the lunch cart down the street. They "demand," we yawn. We tell them to head on home. A few occasionally give us the opportunity to show off our state police, and heck, we contract out to surveil the rest. These folks are pesky--but harmless. Gosh Darnit if they didn't all vote for me anyways! And they'll do it again. Oh, ummm, that's article 27 you're talking about, I think. I'll have to check with my transition team--but I've got that covered. 
Cuomo: How so, Tom?
Wolf: Well, I'm not really sure--but I've got this crack environmental transition team straight from the gas industry, and they're going to tell me everything I need to know. Some of them--like Denice Brinley--have real government experience that they took with them right to the industry, so I'm sure they'll be helpful. 
Cuomo: Wow! Man, if I had let that study of the health effects from HVHF be done by anyone with any gas-related connections, they'd have run me right out of Dodge! 
Wolf: Yeah, well here in the Texas of the East, folks are very patriotic. Our country's energy independence and national security come first! And that means way before other "rights" like property rights, freedom of expression rights, Article 27 rights--hey, we can't let rights get in the way of our funding for education!
Cuomo: But... Tom, isn't that a little self-defeating? I mean, after all, doesn't Pennsylvania want citizens who are educated--so as to exercise their rights in smart sorts of ways?
Wolf:  Nah.
Cuomo: Well, ummm, ok. You know, we have the same battles going on over a lot of this stuff--like pipeline infrastructure--in New York that you have in PA--but we get it that the pipelines aren't really about energy independence and national security. That gas is headed right for LNG export facilities--you know that, right? Do Pennsylvanians get that?
Wolf: Oh, sure they do! We all know that. There are some very determined citizens here in PA working tirelessly to get township supervisors to vote for ordinances that would keep out, well, the whole nasty business.
Cuomo: So....you do see it as a "nasty business"?
Wolf: Well, sure it is--but what was I supposed to do? I inherited the industry from that other Tom. If I get my way, it's a cash cow!
Cuomo: Maybe, Tom--but are your Republicans really gonna let you have an extraction tax?
 Wolf: I doubt it--but hey we're politicians, right? It's not about what we're really gonna do; it's just about what we say we're gonna do--like make fracking safe. Plus....I think the science must just be wrong. That Zucker fella--he must be paid by some lefty health think tank.
Cuomo: Uh, well, no. Zucker's a medical doctor with a sterling reputation, and that report, well, here, you can read its 184 pages for yourself. http://media.syracuse.com/news/other/2014/12/17/NYS%20%20DOH%20fracking%20health%20report.pdf
Wolf: Nah. 
Cuomo: Well, OK. Does it worry you that "cashing in" could mean that the very students you'd use the money to educate could be facing frack-related disease before they can cash out their diplomas to the state's advantage? has anyone ever suggested to you that you're, as it were, torching the furniture to heat the house?
Wolf: Oh, come now, Andrew, that's a bit on the side of hyperbole, isn't it? I'm only going to let some folk's furniture burn--not everyone's.
Cuomo: Ummm, well, who get's to be the lucky sacrifice zone?
Wolf: The folks who already are! Folks who aren't likely to put up all that much of a fuss, who--like your Southern Tier people--would be happy to get a few bucks in royalties.
Cuomo: But Tom, a good number of our Southern Tier folks are sitting in jail right now for protesting Crestwood's plan to build an LNG storage facility on Lake Seneca.
Wolf: Yeah--but you don't actually think that will make a difference, do you?
Cuomo: Ummmm, well, it was the people who demanded a moratorium until a health study could be performed.
Wolf: What? You listen to your people?
Cuomo: Well, ummmm, yeah, actually, I do. It's uncomfortable to be sure, but it seems to be part of the governor's job description. 
Wolf: Nah.
And on this chat might go. The point, however, I think is this:

New York's ban certainly has consequences for Pennsylvanians. But if we allow the governor elect to decide those consequences, we will see no change, no respite from the ongoing danger to our own health, properties, ecologies. Indeed, wasting time appealing to Wolf--who has made his position crystal clear in his transition team selections--is a waste. 

We have a primo opportunity to follow the lead of Watkin's Glen, and execute a strategy that in exemplifying courage will generate more courage. 

But, as I have said a thousand times, it's not going to change until we are prepared to put our bodies on the line. 

And that's more true now than ever

Why? Because the industry's already here--a point the significance of which cannot be overstated.

The drill pads, the pipelines, the compressor stations, etc are not just zits on the PA landscape; they're cancerous lesions scared into every hillside and field, every river and stream in one way or another. 

Getting the gas thugs out is more like having chemotherapy than a tidy surgical wart removal.

To extend the metaphor--it's as if New York read the Surgeon General's warning before they started smoking--and decided it wasn't worth the risk. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, went right our and bought a pack of unfiltered Camels as soon as they were on the market. And when folks started saying "Hey! That may be really bad for you!" Pennsylvanians launched into the usual litany of excuses:

"I can quit whenever I want!"
"The Surgeon general is lying!"
"Yeah, they're bad, but so's heroin!"

This, of course, no more describes all Pennsylvanians than it does all New Yorkers--as any cursory perusal of Energy in Depth's favorite child Vic Furman will attest.

Be all that as it may, the conversation between Cuomo and Wolf could have been very different:
Cuomo: Hey, Tom, we're banning fracking in New York effective today. The risk is just too great, and we're gonna pout our energies into renewables and conservation here in the Empire State.
Wolf: You know, Andrew, you're right. This fracking business is way too risky. I see that now. Time for me to change course for the sake of future Pennsylvanians.
Cuomo: The thing that really got me was when Dr. Zucker said he wouldn't want his kid playing next to a drilling operation. Yup--that did it.
Wolf: Damn straight--and too many PA kids have already suffered the consequences of my predecessors mistakes. Not on my watch. How about we do a joint press release that will rock the socks off those dang Republicans and their Democrat pals? 
Cuomo: What did you have in mind, Tom?
Wolf: Fracking stops in Pennsylvania right now. Not just permits in the offing--but all operations--they'll just have to pack up and head on home to Texas.
Cuomo: You know, you might get sued.
Wolf: Yup--I might. And I might not get re-elected. But it's high time we said that the Keystone State was no longer up for becoming a global extraction colony, don't you think?
Cuomo: Just one last question, then--who do we call first?
I don't, for what it's worth, think the difference between Cuomo and Wolf is anything as exotic as moral fortitude. After all, the real hero of Cuomo's story isn't Cuomo--it's Zucker. And since we know this fact--Wolf and Cuomo are both politicians whose party affiliations don't really matter all that much--isn't it time we simply do for ourselves what the New York health study has done for New Yorkers? 

Namely, take back our right to clean air and water?

Not ask nicely not to be forfeited to the gassers and the pipeliners.

Not make vacuous demands at our rallies not to be horse-traded for gas company profits.

Not send out one or two activists to be arrested as a show of our solidarity.

Not draft another petition.

Not write another letter pleading to be treated like human beings

Nope--none of that's gonna work.

Time to take the stand that we deserve what New Yorkers get just by living a bit North:

Human. Rights. 

I have many times compared what this movement could be to the Civil Rights movement of the American 1960s.  I have reflected a good deal on the well-intended criticism that, for example, there can never be another Selma, Alabama. And of course, there can't. 

But what there can and must be is the willingness to be inspired by Selma, Alabama--to see that what we're struggling for in the 21st century is precisely the future that was and remains at stake in the 1960s. I don't pretend for a moment to comprehend racial discrimination. But I do comprehend discrimination with respect to sex and sexual orientation. And I do know what is at stake here. In the face of climate change--it's everything.

So, I will hold onto this comparison.

This is about human rights on a global scale.

This is about the rights of species and their ecologies to exist and develop along their own evolutionary trajectories.

This is about the future--because "sustainable" just ain't enough.

I don't know what Andrew Cuomo understands or doesn't. I do know that in ignoring the New York health report Tom Wolf is nothing but a mercenary politician whose fortunes depend on a system corrupt to its core and whose corruption he has already abetted. 

We need to treat him as naught but a symptom of that. 

Wendy Lynne Lee

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Big Gas Wolf, His New Pack of Drillin' Dogs, and the "Environmentalists" Who Help Him Run Interference

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

Recently, Nathan Sooy, Central Campaign Coordinator for  Clean Water Action--one of the in-name-only greenies of whom I have been recently very critical (see list below)--posted on a Facebook thread (without citation) the list of Governor elect Tom Wolf's appointments to Wolf's transition review teams originally published here:


When I remarked that this list--a wholesale capitulation to the gas companies--was "utterly predictable," and that "this was what standing on the steps of the Harrisburg Capitol with protest signs will get us," Sooy's response was "Wendy, I have barely gotten started" (Governor Wolf's Department of Environmental... - Nathan Richard Sooy).

Started--with what? 

So far as I can see, Clean Water Action (CWA) has prevented precisely not one minute's worth of the kind of destruction above. In fact, what's underneath that gutted swath of forest--and what's draining into the Muncy Creek just out of camera range is this:

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

"Just getting started--with what? is a fair question. After all, CWA states on its website that part of their mission is to stand up for the Clean Water Act--and that would be great--if they actually did that consistently. But, while it may strike CWA folks as crazy, it turns out that clean water is intimately associated with clean air. And CWA's support as part of the faux-coalition, Pennsylvanians Against Fracking (PAF), of governor elect Tom Wolf simply puts the lie to PAF's commitment to the Clean Air Act.

As I showed here, THE WRENCH: I "Heart" Wolf: Why IREX Should send Pennsylvanians Against Fracking a Thank You! Card, Wolf has his hands about as deeply in the pockets of the fossil fuel energy industry as did Corbett--with one caveat:

Wolf is going to pretend to be on the side of clean air and water.

Corbett didn't bother.

And one aspiration:

Wolf believes fervently that he can be re-elected.

That makes Wolf even more dangerous since under his administration many among at least the Democrats (who seem to want to be told they can safely go to sleep) are clearly willing to provide him cover for the sake of keeping the party in power--all the while the gas industry and its affiliates among the pipeliners plan to just keep drilling the state into oblivion, and pumping out the gas to the export depots.

Here's a bit of problem-pipeline--in case you're wondering what that might look like--same location, buried under that topsoil and straw. Pretty nasty--and hazardous to exposure both for water and air. That's drilling mud, and it's both quite irritating to the skin and to the lungs.

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

If CWA's association with PAF isn't sufficient for you, fine. Here's CWA's own endorsement of Wolf:

The November 4th election saw the loss of pro-environment seats in both houses of the legislature, predicting further attacks on the environment.  
Fortunately, Governor-Elect Tom Wolf will have significant power to block those attacks and to move forward on crucial environmental protections, and has promised a cleaner future for Pennsylvania.   

Clean Water Action, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, PennEnvironment, PennFuture, and the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter congratulate Governor-Elect Wolf on his victory and look forward to working with his administration to protect Pennsylvania’s environment. (http://www.cleanwateraction.org/feature/5-simple-things-governor-tom-wolf-can-do-pennsylvania’s-environment).
That is called "making sure CWA has a seat at the table" even though its players, like Nathan Sooy, know that Wolf is in bed with W. Kirk Liddell, CEO of IREX to the tune of at least $12,000, and Sooy no doubt also knows that Irex has worked tirelessly to deregulate every bit as much of the Clean Air Act as possible--or profitable. And Sooy also knows that Wolf happily accepted at least $273,000 in energy sector donations. 

It is indeed richly ironic that among CWA's "Five Simple Things that Governor Tom Wolf can do for Pennsylvania's Environment" is this:

Pennsylvania ranks among the worst states in the nation for air pollution and illnesses like asthma. Currently, Pennsylvania does not directly regulate methane pollution from natural gas operations and lags behind other states in controlling air emissions. Governor-Elect Wolf should work with DEP to directly regulate methane emissions from natural gas operations. Additionally, Pennsylvania should enact a strong “Smog Rule,” to limit pollutants like nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds.  

None of this is going to happen while IREX CEO Liddell is on the donation list for Wolf's re-election--not to mention the big gassers responsible for the other $261,000. Moreover, here CWA explicitly concedes that it's only interested in regulating--not stopping (much less banning) natural gas extraction. ALL CWA is asking for (and ever so politely) is that Wolf work with DEP to regulate methane emissions--and that means from fracking operations CWA assumes will continue.

And Sooy of course knows that if Wolf gets his way (however unlikely) and gets an extraction tax, there will be even less regulation since fewer regs/less enforcement means more gas production and therefore more tax revenue (more of this below--see http://thewrenchphilosleft.blogspot.com/2014/11/two-toms-sheep-outfit-and-drill-bit.html).

All of this makes it even more richly ironic that CWA posts the following among their "Five Simple Things":

To implement these policies, Governor-Elect Wolf needs to build a team of agency leaders committed to environmental protection and independent of the special interests that these bodies oversee – new leadership for the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Public Utilities Commission, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.Leaders of these agencies should know that climate change is a problem; enthusiastically support renewable energy, clean air, and clean water; and understand that their first duty is to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s citizens.
Let's see what this cast of "leaders" for Mr. Wolf looks like so far. From the PennLive report's list of Wolf's "Environmental Protection Team"

Christina Simeone, Director at the PennFuture Energy Center--entirely pro-fracking on the long-rejected argument that natural gas is cleaner than coal: "Coal job losses are natural gas job gains. If coal plant retirements were occurring because people stopped using electricity, then that is net economic job loss. But that is not the case. Job loss from retiring coal plants is being coupled with job gains in the natural gas sector. In economics, this is called a transfer, not a loss" (Coal isn't dying - it just can't compete: Christina Simeone | PennLive.com). And, there's this gem, Simeone's view of the new EPA regulations concerning coal-fired power plants: "This is a great day for the environment,” said Christina Simeone, director of the PennFuture Energy Center. But Simeone noted that a surge of cheaper natural gas from the Marcellus Shale was already pushing power companies to shut down some coal plants. “The reality is coal is being outcompeted. Gas is cheaper, and gas is cleaner,” Simeone said (Pollution plan may have big impact in state - News - Citizens' Voice).

Rob Foxx, managing attorney at Manko, Gold, Katcher, and Fox, LLP: "Robb is the managing partner of the firm and has a diverse practice involving compliance counseling, litigation and transactional work for clients in the waste, chemical manufacturing and development industries and on behalf of cities and municipalities." Foxx, in other words, makes sure regulations are followed--regulations written by and for the extraction industries that donate to Wolf's campaign, and who will see even less regulation (since that will mean higher revenues) if Wolf wins his proposal for an extraction tax. That Foxx represents the interests of polluting industries is clear on his website: Robert D. Fox - Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox LLP | Best Lawyers

Denise Brinley, Vice President and Principal Consultant, TRC Companies: "Support TRC’s strategic initiatives in the fields of Shale Gas, Renewables, RE Power, and Brownfield redevelopment, as well as the expansion of TRC’s due diligence, permitting, remediation and Exit Strategy® service areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and surrounding states. Lead TRC's “Appalachian Shale Gas Initiative" - responsible for identifying market opportunities, generating sales, and leading a core team of business development professionals for Appalachian shale gas service growth (Marcellus and Utica Shales in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and New York) (Denise Brinley | LinkedIn). TRC:  "TRC is experienced in the permitting of all types of fossil-fueled combustion and power generation technologies including simple combustion turbines, combined cycle combustion turbines, coal-fired boilers as well as integrated gasification combined cycle technologies."And there's this: "TRC is a recognized, national leader in providing unparalleled consulting services to the natural gas industry, having permitted many of the largest pipeline, liquefied natural gas (LNG), and storage projects in the United States. Our professional staff has extensive experience in siting, permitting, and compliance services, including construction inspection and post-construction monitoring of pipeline facilities, for inter- and intra- state transmission, local distribution, and interconnects to new power generation facilities, ' "(TRC Companies, Inc. - Energy | Natural Gas/LNG). If this doesn't speak for itself about Brinley,  I don't know what does. Except this: she's a textbook example of the government's revolving door. She was Deputy Secretary and Bureau Director of Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields, DEP. 

Nick DeBenedictus, CEO Aqua America: Responsible for the eviction of the residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Community, Jersey Shore, PA to build a three million gallon water withdrawal for frack pads near Williamsport: L’Eau DeBenedictis: Aqua America, Water Insecurity, The Manufacture of Scarcity, and Fracking | Raging Chicken Press. There's much to say about Aqua America's stalwart work to corporatize and privatize access to clean water--not the least of which is its implications for folks who can't afford it, but suffice it here just to point out that few CEOs more transparently exemplify the appropriation--with government's blessing--of public utilities--public goods-for private profit ventures. This appointment speaks volumes about Governor Wolf's values.

This is just a snippet of what we can expect from the new governor. Let's add:

George Ellis, Executive Director, PA Coal Alliance
Shari Williams, Community Outreach Manager, Marcellus Shale Coalition
Steve Winberg, Vice President, Consol Energy

I'll add more later. But you get the idea. And, of course, there's precisely no representation from any of the genuinely grassroots anti-fracking organizations. 

And if you're still not sure about where Wolf stands, how about another picture of what all this means:

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

So, it's super clear that Governor Wolf has no intention of paying any attention to CWA's 'Five Simple Things." So, knowing this, what could Sooy mean by "just getting started"?

Could he mean that he's working towards organizing real, arrest-able, aggressively non-violent protests where he's willing to be pepper-sprayed and water cannoned? 

Could he mean that he's prepared to denounce the governor and the governor's gas stooges in a substantial--arrest-able--display of public horror? The kind that would alienate him from the political aspirants at, say, PennFuture?

Could he mean that he's going to make public the fact that the laws are written to protect the extraction industry--and then denounce the Democratic Party for its conciliatory stance for the industry, and against the people?

Could he mean that he's about to make a pubic statement that the moratorium resolution is dead?

But then here's the million dollar question: If that's what "just getting started" means, why didn't Sooy do that before the election?

We all know why--that course would endanger CWA's spot in the Wolf Pack.

So, if you want change, steer clear of CWA and their politically expedient allies.

Or, just look once more at the pictures. 

If you want more of that, stay with the Wolf Pack and all of their stooges, including Clean Water Action. 

For more, please see: