Even though the candidates haven’t discussed it nearly enough, today’s election is going to be critical for the future of the environment…and the future of the planet. On some big-ticket issues such as climate change, the challenges — and the contrasts between America’s two political parties — are fairly obvious. But what voters forget is that day-to-day regulation is the nitty gritty of environmental politics. It’s in the day-to-day, mundane rulemaking that our policymakers can employ to ensure the safety of the water that we drink and the air that we breathe — or they can let their big-business, big-bucks campaign contributors run wild.
With Election Day underway, we’ve seen a remarkable and disturbing example of the kind of misued power that regulators can wield coming out of the state of Pennsylvania. As you probably know, the Marcellus Shale foundation that runs under most of the state has become a major target for natural gas drillers and their high-risk, high-yield technique known as fracking. Pennsylvania’s government has largely been in the back pocket of the fracking industry, especially since the election in 2010 of a Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who took in hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign cash from top industry officials.
So now we are shocked, shocked to learn that the regulators in Pennsylvania have been looking the other way for years, all to the benefit of the natural gas industry:
PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania officials reported incomplete test results that omitted data on some toxic metals that were found in drinking water taken from a private well near a natural gas drilling site, according to legal documents released this week.
The documents were part of a lawsuit claiming that natural gas extraction through a method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and storage of the resulting wastewater at a site in southwestern Pennsylvania has contaminated drinking water and sickened seven plaintiffs who live nearby.
In a deposition, a scientist for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection testified that her laboratory tested for a range of metals but reported results for only some of them because the department’s oil and gas division had not requested results from the full range of tests.
The scientist, Taru Upadhyay, the technical director of the department’s Bureau of Laboratories, said the metals found in the water sample but not reported to either the oil and gas division or to the homeowner who requested the tests, included copper, nickel, zinc and titanium, all of which may damage the health of people exposed to them, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
This is no academic exercise. The health consequences of the pollution in this rural corner of southwestern Pennsylvania are very, very real. The plaintiff whose water was not adequately tested is a women named Loren Kiskadden. She has complained she is suffering symptoms including nausea, bone pain, breathing difficulties and severe headaches. Some six residents who live within a mile of a Range Resources fracking rig claim in a legal complaint that tests have found the presence of toluene, benzene and arsenic in their bodies.
But Pennsylvania regulators have found it more important to protect proprietary information for the drilling industry than to warn citizens about potential risks to their health. This is the same state that imposed a gag order on physicians to keep information about drilling chemicals secret, despite the risks to public health. This weekend, a piece in Business Insider reminded us of the some of the stakes:
Natural gas is mostly methane, and the potent greenhouse gas— it traps 21 times more heat than CO2— has been leaking from wells at twice the rate of fracking industry claims, according to a 2012 study published in the journal Nature.
A 2011 congressional report on the chemicals used in hydraulic fracking, states that the 14 leading hydraulic fracturing companies in the U.S. injected 10.2 million gallons of more than 650 products that contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens, regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants.
These are the stakes. The next president — not to mention governors and lawmakers who are being elected in a number of states today — will appoint bureaucrats who will make the rules on what chemicals are going to be regulated, and how the actual tests will be performed. It’s not the sexiest issue, but people’s good health and even their lives are at stake. We’ve seen time and time again that the pendulum has swung too far in favor of Big Oil and Gas. It’s time to start swinging it back.
To read more about the poisons not being reported by Pennsylvania regulators, please read: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/03/us/pennsylvania-omitted-poison-data-in-water-report.html
To find out more about the toxic chemicals that are used in the fracking process, please read: http://www.businessinsider.com/scary-chemicals-used-in-hydraulic-fracking-2012-3?op=1
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