Monday, November 3, 2014

Two "Toms," a Sheep Outfit, and a Drill Bit: The Lies that Win Elections for the Gas Thugs

A few observations about the elections on Tuesday, 11.4.2014:

1. This is simple, folks: We either decide to fight. Or we decide to concede. But a vote for either Tom Wolf or another round of Tom Corbett amounts to precisely the same. Mr. Wolf will embrace everything fracking. He already has. And even the thinnest most paltry pretense at a tax will not only entrench the industry even more deeply in the state's economy, it will guarantee even less regulation. Why? Less regulation will mean more gas production, and when you've banked your candidacy on restoring funding for public education, you're going to make sure you get some of those cents.

2. What we must get here: Mr.Wolf is already thinking about his re-election to a second term. That will require he make modestly good on his first term, and that is going to be all about the gas. Therefore, he is going to be entirely willing to sacrifice you. Make no mistake about it: a vote for Wolf is a vote for the Gas Thugs.

3. At least Corbett is a clear target, a clear enemy, and therefore highly useful as a point of departure for the resistance. This is not an argument for voting for Corbett. The point is to make clear that Mr. Wolf is a wolf in sheep's clothing--the guy who naively believes all the hype about safe regulated gas production. There is no such thing--but the one that's that's worse that the gas infrastructure itself is being willfully ignorant about the hype.

4. Some claim that a "new broom sweeps clean": that is simply absurd. That Wolf will appoint a "new" cabinet means nothing more that he'll bring in his likely to be corrupted pals instead of Corbett's. But the notion that these folks will somehow be less beholden to the gas companies is highly unlikely. Why? Because Wolf is so beholden. The reason the gas industry has poured at least $273,000--just since June is because they want to make sure their influence on decision-making is uninterrupted. 

And it will be.

5. Here are the facts: It doesn't matter for squat how many PR battles the industry loses so long as they can keep pumping out the gas. Whether a Wolf or a Corbett administration is irrelevant. We would be far better served turning our attention away from what are entirely deceptive party politics, and turning it squarely toward our communities and townships to draft ordinances that proactively promote and protect the rights of the communities and their members. Will these communities be sued by the gas companies? Very possibly. Is that worse than the concession a vote for Wolf exemplifies? Absolutely not. And there is no bad PR for these companies that could be worse than a movement across the country that seeks to establish those fundamental human and community rights.

It's time to think. 

It's time to think bigger.

The argument against taxing the gas industry:

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.

Why the Green Party is the Alternative:

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. Look for example to Adam Federman's recent account of the Marcellus Shale Operator's Crime Committee.

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. 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.

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