It didn t take long after the mid-term election last week for winners, pundits, and the media to attribute the results to a rejection of a new reform agenda in Washington. Unfortunately, when it comes to energy policy, the elections did deliver a solid victory for the status quo.
Politicians of all stripes and at all levels of government are loudly calling for more extraction of fossil fuels, including natural gas. But when it comes to the need for stronger government regulation and oversight to protect public health and the environment, political voices remain a mere whisper.
Drillers certainly liked what they heard the day after the elections, when former White House aide Karl Rove prognosticated that legislation to stem climate change and regulate the gas industry will simply be “gone” with the new Congress. (Rove s political group Crossroads Ventures spent $300,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey, a lead proponent of the FRAC Act to require companies to disclose the toxic chemicals they pump into the ground.)
In the heart of the Marcellus Shale gas boom, just follow the money to see how PA Governor-elect Tom Corbett and other candidates sailed to victory on the winds of financial contributions from the gas industry, and are now set to control both legislative houses. While running for office, Corbett said he favors regulation and sound science at the Department of Environmental Protection, but he also strongly opposes taxing gas companies and halting further leasing of state forestland for drilling. In Ohio, incumbent Governor and alternative energy proponent Ted Strickland was defeated by John Kasich, whose energy policy remains vague but who has pledged to eliminate government regulation on industry.
For his part, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may push an energy bill during the lame duck session of Congress that would provide billions of dollars in incentives for natural gas, an approach inspired by energy billionaire T. Boone Pickens. The Pickens Plan that Reid and many other politicians embrace fervently calls for large-scale development of natural gas, but its website ignores the toxic reality of gas development by cheerfully claiming that hydraulic fracturing used to extract the gas is safe and efficient and uses just a mixture of water, sand, and a tiny amount of highly diluted additives.
Organizations, communities, and forward-looking policymakers will have to keep raising their voices above the din and working to quiet down the anti-regulation, pro-dirty fuels, post-election party so that people and the land won’t continue to suffer from the severe and persistent pollution hangovers that have become all too common.