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July 2nd, 2015

Pittsburgh Residents File Suit Over Water Overcharging

By Brendan Agnew Faucet

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), the provider of water service to roughly 300,000 customers, is facing a multi-million-dollar lawsuit. The suit, which seeks class action status, charges that many residents who had “smart meters” installed saw their bills skyrocket unexpectedly, some of them by as much as 600 percent.

According to the suit, the new meters, which were supposed to provide more accurate readings of water use, were prone to drastic measurement errors, in one case charging a property owner for 132,000 gallons on a vacant property. Customers who couldn’t pay these inflated bills were issued shutoff notices despite complaints to the PWSA. The suit points out that PWSA is “acutely aware” of the overbilling but “[did] not hesitate for a moment to issue ‘shut off’ notices and then arbitrarily turn off water service.

PWSA recently hired a new executive director, Jim Good, a former executive vice president of Veolia Water’s West Region. Good and Veolia were brought in to assist the city with the management and improvement of its outdated water infrastructure in 2012. The PWSA maintained governance over the system, with Veolia Water providing “day-to day management” and “diagnostic evaluations of Authority operations,” according to a PWSA press release.

Veolia oversaw management of the Authority when it began installing the new meters in April of 2014. The company makes much of its global revenue through implementing advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) technology such as the meters in question in the lawsuit. When the PWSA renewed its contract with Veolia earlier this year, the company cited its water meter replacement program as a highlight of its work in Pittsburgh, pointing to the added revenues more accurate billing could bring to the city.

Veolia has become notorious for unfair billing practices and mismanaging water systems, prompting a host of U.S. cities to cut ties to the company. As part of a larger utility transformation, the city of Indianapolis famously cut its engagement with the company more than a decade short in 2013, following similar accusations of overcharging and misconduct. Other cities have dropped Veolia over service complaints, while residents of Baltimore and St. Louis successfully fought to keep their cities from contracting with the company.

Pittsburgh residents have also seen spikes in water and sewer rates over the past year. The PWSA implemented a 4 percent rate increase this year, reportedly to cover costs of infrastructure updates, according to a report by Pittsburgh’s Tribune Review. Despite the rate increases, just prior to the litigation, PWSA hired Jim Good as its permanent head with a salary of $240,000 a year, plus potential bonuses, making him Pittsburgh’s second-highest paid government official, eclipsing even Mayor Bill Peduto, who is paid less than half as much.

The city will scale back Veolia’s contract as Good takes on a more central role and as the authority fills the remaining management positions. Hopefully, the public managers will work to improve affordable access to water in Pittsburgh.

Brendan Agnew is a Food & Water Watch summer water research and policy intern and a recent graduate from American University

With No Indication of Investigation of Pa. DOH Negligence on Fracking Health Complaints, Group Demands Records from Attorney General

AG’s Office Promised to Investigate in 2014; Evidence Suggests It Has Only Conducted Some Introductory Interviews

Philadelphia, Pa. (July 1) – The advocacy group Food & Water Watch submitted today a Right-to-Know request to the state attorney general’s office, seeking any and all documents pertaining to fracking-related public health concerns in the state. The request comes almost a year after the office indicated to fracking-harmed residents who had unsuccessfully sought help from the Department of Health (DOH) and called on the attorney general to investigate, that it would indeed conduct an investigation. Since then, no evidence of any substantive investigation has surfaced.

In July, 2014, an agent from the attorney general’s environmental crime unit requested from Food & Water Watch and Berks Gas Truth a list of state residents who had claimed to have contacted DOH about fracking-related health concerns, and hadn’t received adequate responses. The agent stated that the office would contact the individuals and conduct an investigation. However, follow-up with residents indicates that at least some interviews have taken place, but no follow-up investigation was ever launched.

“I spoke with the attorney general’s office, shared my story of how the Department of Health handled my health complaint, and was told we would see a report of the investigation. A year later, we haven’t heard a thing. And we still need help,” said Audrey Gozdiskowski, a Wyoming County resident who approached the DOH with a fracking-related health complaint last July and was subsequently contacted by the attorney general’s office.

Ms. Gozdiskowski was one of a dozen affected residents that sent a letter to the attorney general last July, demanding the investigation of the DOH.

This Right-to-Know request comes on the heels of a Food & Water Watch analysis of reams of documents it obtained that clearly demonstrate an ongoing pattern of alarming inadequacy and negligence by DOH in its response to fracking-related health complaints. After a 2014 StateImpact Pennsylvania report revealing that DOH health workers were instructed to identify key fracking “buzzwords,” and told not to respond to fracking-related health complaints, Food & Water Watch requested and eventually received the DOH natural gas drilling log of health complaints. The logs demonstrate that state residents are regularly reporting alarming health concerns, and that state agencies have failed to adequately respond and address these health problems from drilling and fracking.

Food & Water Watch will also be seeking more records from DOH, as significant gaps in data clearly exist in the documents received up to this point.

Common symptoms reported in the logs include breathing difficulty, asthma, throat and nose irritation, noxious odors, skin problems, and abdominal issues. Residents also reported headaches nosebleeds, eye irritation, hair loss and cancer. DOH responses to these complaints did not adequately address the seriousness of the reported symptoms. Many residents, after calling DOH, were simply referred to other state agencies and/or told to have their air or water tested.

As the analysis of the health complaint logs notes, the symptoms residents reported to the DOH are consistent with concerns identified in a range of scientific and public health assessments of the potential health impacts of drilling and fracking. For instance, many peer-reviewed papers point to the dangers of oil pollution from drilling and fracking, and the likelihood of respiratory and other health effects.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – sgladstone[at]fwwatch[dot]org

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June 24th, 2015

Documents Released Show Pa. Fracking Health Complaints, Negligence of State Agencies’ Response

Philadelphia, Pa. – The advocacy group Food & Water Watch released today an analysis of reams of documents it obtained from the state of Pennsylvania that clearly demonstrate an ongoing pattern of alarming inadequacy and negligence by the state Dept. of Health (DOH) in its response to fracking-related health complaints from state residents. After a 2014 StateImpact Pennsylvania report revealing that DOH health workers were instructed to identify key fracking “buzzwords,” and told not to respond to fracking-related health complaints, Food & Water Watch requested and eventually received the DOH natural gas drilling log of health complaints. The logs demonstrate that state residents are regularly reporting alarming health concerns, and that state agencies have failed to adequately respond and address these health problems from drilling and fracking.

Common symptoms reported in the logs include breathing difficulty, asthma, throat and nose irritation, noxious odors, skin problems, and abdominal issues. Residents also reported headaches nosebleeds, eye irritation, hair loss and cancer. DOH responses to these complaints did not adequately address the seriousness of the reported symptoms. Many residents, after calling DOH, were simply referred to other state agencies and/or told to have their air or water tested.

The DOH log records received by Food & Water Watch can be accessed here: http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/Grass_OOR_Appeal_Documents_Redacted.final.pdf

The full analysis of the complaint logs can be accessed here: http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/FWWRTKPADOH6.17.15-3.pdf

“This detailed look inside the Department of Health brings into stark relief what we’ve known for years – that Pennsylvanians are getting sick from drilling and fracking, and the state has been grossly negligent in protecting residents. Governor Wolf should break this legacy by instituting an immediate halt on any new fracking in the state,” said Sam Bernhardt, senior state organizer at Food & Water Watch in Philadelphia.

Scott Edwards, co-director of the Food and Water Justice program at Food & Water Watch added, “We fought for almost a year and with multiple administrations for these documents. Now we know why. These documents display the inadequacy and negligence of Department responses to serious health complaints from people who deserve better protection from irresponsible fracking industries. We will continue, through all the legal and grassroots organizing tactics at our disposal, to uncover the immense body of evidence of state negligence to the impacts of fracking hinted at in these documents.”

“My family and I were being made sick by fracking 500 feet from our house, so I went to Pennsylvania Department of Health for help. Instead, the agency tried to pass off my request to other agencies, which I knew were already uncooperative, and recommended prohibitively expensive tests. The agency’s account of my case as described in these logs is inaccurate at several junctures,” said Linda Headley, a Fayette County resident whose fracking-related health complaint was recorded in the documents received by Food & Water Watch.

“Both the DOH and the DEP lacked the resources and staff to follow up, thus relying on the limited time and capacity of others to formulate responses when a serious examination of repeated health damage was brought to them. Instead the public was directed on fruitless and often expensive air and water testing for unknown compounds or sent physicians who had limited ability to obtain information necessary to help the patients experiencing the exposures,” said David R. Brown, ScD, a public health toxicologist and the director of public health toxicology at Environment and Human Health, Inc. “The victims have become identified as the problem, and trust in government fairness has been lost. Trust in these agencies cannot be restored to this generation.”

As the analysis of the health complaint logs notes, the symptoms residents reported to the DOH are consistent with concerns identified in a range of scientific and public health assessments of the potential health impacts of drilling and fracking. For instance, many peer-reviewed papers point to the dangers of oil pollution from drilling and fracking, and the likelihood of respiratory and other health effects.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – sgladstone[at]fwwatch[dot]org, 347.778.2866


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April 13th, 2015

Somerset County Residents Fight Back Against Expanding Chicken Industry

By Michele Merkel and Claire Fitch


Somerset County has been in the cross hairs of the poultry industry for quite a long time, with an inventory of 14.9 million broiler chickens – the largest of any county in Maryland, and the sixth largest in the United States. Big companies, including Perdue and Tyson own these birds, which are raised in large industrial facilities for their entire lives, and produce enormous quantities of waste. With nowhere to put the tens of millions of pounds of manure generated by these birds, the county is now considering poultry litter incinerators while continuing to entertain proposals to build a number of new broiler chicken operations.

Last week, public health scientists, environmental advocates, and local residents joined together for a Town Hall meeting at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to express their concerns with the proposed expansion of factory farm chicken operations and the construction of a poultry litter incinerator in Somerset County on the lower Eastern Shore.

Speakers at the Town Hall meeting gave us a snapshot of the public health and community impacts that may result from the expansion of broiler production and the introduction of manure burning facilities.

Brent Kim from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future spoke about the evidence of chemical contaminants and harmful bacteria, including antibiotic resistant strains, in and around broiler operations. These health hazards have been identified several miles downwind from such operations and may be carried into groundwater sources – particularly concerning for the 60 percent of Somerset County’s residents who access their household water supply from private wells. Read more…

April 7th, 2015

Baltimore Water Shut-Offs Violate Human Right to Water

Statement By Food & Water Watch Common Resources Director Mitch Jones

Baltimore, MD — “Baltimore’s Department of Public Works could deny 25,000 households, or approximately 75,000 people, their human right to water. The city must stop residential shutoffs and turn the water back on to avoid a human rights and public health disaster.

“Baltimore is repeating Detroit’s mistakes by denying thousands of households access to essential water and sanitation services. Last year, Detroit’s aggressive water shutoff program prompted widespread protest, international media scrutiny and condemnation by the United Nations.

“Baltimore should not cut off service to households who cannot afford to pay the city’s ever-growing water rates. It is an insult to human dignity and would violate their basic human right to water. Disconnecting service to thousands of homes also poses a very real public health threat. Without water service, people cannot flush their toilets or wash their hands. Lack of adequate sanitation can cause diseases to spread, making people sick. The elderly, children and people with diabetes and other illnesses would be especially vulnerable. Extensive water shutoffs would be a public health crisis in the making.

“It is not even clear whether all the bills for those targeted for shut-off are accurate, given Baltimore’s history of over-billing—one of the reasons behind the city’s effort to install smart meters.

“As water and sewer bills increase, existing low-income assistance programs are failing to meet the growing need. The city should target delinquent businesses first, while expanding its assistance to low-income residents and implement a comprehensive, income-based water affordability program. An income-based approach to water billing is the most equitable option. The city must act to ensure universal access to safe and affordable water service.”

Contacts: Mitch Jones, mjones(at)fwwatch(dot)org, 410-394-7651 or 443-418-6454

March 16th, 2015

Hundreds of National, State and Local Groups Urge Govs. Christie and Cuomo to Veto Port Ambrose LNG Plan

Letter Initiated by Food & Water Watch Highlights Grave Environmental and Safety Risks of Proposed Offshore Gas Port

New York, NY – A letter sent today by advocacy group Food & Water Watch to Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, signed by 217 national, state and local organizations, called on the governors to veto an offshore liquid natural gas (LNG) port being proposed for construction in the waters just off New York and New Jersey. As the letter states, the proposed Port Ambrose LNG facility would pose a significant explosion and pollution threat to nearby costal communities, would increase dependence on fossil fuels and fracking throughout the region, and would impede the prospect of offshore wind energy development in the same location. Both Christie and Cuomo have the ability to veto the proposal outright.

Additionally, as the public comment period on Port Ambrose came to a close today, Food & Water Watch submitted more than 27,000 comments to the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal Maritime Administration opposing the plan. The letter opposing Port Ambrose was signed by organizations from 24 different states, including prominent national organizations such as Sierra Club and 350.org.

“Governor Christie vetoed a similar offshore LNG proposal in 2011 and we hope he’ll once again do the smart thing for the safety and prosperity of the Jersey Shore,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Governor Cuomo recently became a national leader on the environment and public safety when he banned fracking in New York. For him to allow Port Ambrose now would be a real contradiction, and an about-face on fracking and fossil fuels. We urge both governors to reject this unneeded, unwanted offshore hazard.”

Notably, the letter highlights the connection Port Ambrose would likely have to the harmful, polluting practice of fracking in the United States. The letter states in part:

There is no convincing demonstration for the need of this project for [natural gas] imports… Although the Port Ambrose project is being proposed as in import facility, market forces dictate that it could be used to export LNG to foreign markets where has fetches a much higher price than in the United States… If converted to an export facility, the project’s threats would be compounded by the extent it would drive demand for drilling and fracking for natural gas. Fracking is a dangerous method of extracting oil and gas that threatens drinking water supplies, as well as the stability of our climate…

Contact: Seth Gladstone – sgladstone[at]fwwatch[dot]org, 718.943.8063

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March 11th, 2015

Western Maryland Business Owners Join Growing Call for Statewide Fracking Moratorium

More than 100 Businesses from Region Sign Letter to Legislators

Annapolis, Md. – Dozens of business owners and concerned residents of Western Maryland descended on the capital today to highlight strong and growing demand in their region for a statewide fracking moratorium. They presented a letter to legislative leaders signed by more than 100 Western Maryland business owners calling for the moratorium. The letter cites deep concern over the grave effects the highly industrial, polluting process of fracking could have on regional businesses, particularly those related to the booming tourism and leisure industries. Western Maryland residents also delivered to the legislature today some of the 20,000 petitions from state residents calling for the moratorium that were recently collected by advocacy groups.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo and Senator Karen Montgomery are the two lead sponsors on the Protect Our Health and Communities Act (HB 449/SB 409), introduced in February, to enact a long-term moratorium on fracking in the state.

“I believe the impacts from fracking will take our Golden Goose and send it flying. Having seen the equipment intensive widespread heavy industry that fracking is I cannot see how it is compatible with vacationing in Deep Creek Lake or Garrett County. Tourism pays a lot of bills in Garrett County,” said Steven Green, co-owner of High Mountain Sports and former president of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce.

“We are excited for the chance to respectfully explain that our own elected representatives do not reflect the sentiments of what we believe are most business owners’ viewpoints in Mountain Maryland. We say no to water contamination, no to urban-style air pollution in our valleys, no to the perpetual truck traffic that will spell the end of our tourism industry and yes — resoundingly yes — to fracking moratorium legislation,” said Paul Roberts, co-proprietor of Deep Creek Cellars.

“My business has introduced the beauty of rural, western Maryland to many thousands of outdoor recreation tourists and cyclists each year, visitors who are typically affluent and have a high likelihood of returning often.  Outdoor recreation tourism in general, and cycling in particular, is not compatible with destroyed roads, heavy truck traffic, polluted air, and the eyesore that is inherent with fracking. Western Maryland should be encouraging rather than discouraging the outdoor recreation industry,” said Kyle Yost, owner of Garrett Events.

“According to a Washington Post poll, more than 50 percent of Marylanders oppose fracking. Because of all the research that is coming out on the potential health, environmental and safety risks of the fracking industry, we need to take a step back and let the science play out on these issues,” said Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo.

The advocacy groups that collected more than 20,000 petitions in support of the fracking moratorium are: Chesapeake Climate Action Network; CREDO Action; Environmental Action; Food & Water Watch; Friends of the Earth; League of Conservation Voters; Sierra Club; and Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

Background: Fracking is a controversial natural gas drilling method that involves blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals underground at extreme pressure to break up rock and release the gas. Maryland’s new governor, Larry Hogan, has said he wants to move forward with drilling — despite the growing evidence of its harm and the most recent polling, which shows a clear majority are concerned about those risks.

More than 425 peer-reviewed scientific studies on the effects of shale gas development now exist, and 75 percent of those have been published since January 2013. Of the 49 studies that investigated the health effects of fracking, 47 – over 96 percent – found risks or adverse health outcomes. Maryland’s Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH) also concluded that the likelihood of negative public health impacts was “high” or “moderately high” in 7 of 8 areas studied. The latest poll in Maryland found 58 percent of Marylanders who know of fracking thought it would harm the state’s environment. For more information visit www.DontFrackMD.org

Contact: Ryanne Waters – rwaters[at]fwwatch.org, 818.371.0912

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March 3rd, 2015

Maryland Legislators, Businesses and Health Professionals Call for Fracking Moratorium

Rally Highlights Scientific Evidence of Fracking’s Harms; Polls Show Majority of Marylanders Opposed to Drilling

Annapolis, Md. – The Protect Our Health And Communities Act (HB 449/SB 409), a fracking moratorium bill introduced by Maryland Senator Karen Montgomery, Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, and 51 other General Assembly members, will be heard before the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs today. The Don’t Frack Maryland campaign held a rally in support of the bill, citing concerns over fracking’s effects on public health, tourism, real estate, agriculture, organic farming, and recreation industries, and Maryland’s long-term economic outlook. On Monday a letter was sent to the Maryland General Assembly from over 85 Western Maryland businesses calling for a fracking moratorium.

Meanwhile, a recent Goucher poll found that 59 percent agree natural gas drilling in Maryland poses a major risk to the state’s water resources, and a poll released yesterday by Chesapeake Climate Action Network found that 68 percent of Marylanders are opposed to fracking in the state right now.

“This bill will keep our pristine environment,” said Senator Karen Montgomery, the bill’s Senate Sponsor. “A long-term moratorium on fracking is the responsible choice to determine the effects it will have, not only on public health, but also on Maryland’s tourism, real estate, agriculture and small businesses.”

“We are seeing more and more, that the detrimental effects of fracking are not isolated within the energy industry. Fracking not only impacts our personal health but also the health of our state’s economy,” said Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the bill’s House sponsor. “I don’t want to see fracking come to Maryland before first understanding the long-term health, environmental and economic impacts.”

Advocates for the bill argue that fracking should only be allowed in Maryland if the technology is shown to be safe, but there is increasing evidence that this practice is simply too dangerous. Hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies have identified numerous human health risks, air and water pollution, increased earthquake activity, and social problems linked to drilling and fracking in states where it already occurs.

“Anyone who thinks that fracking can be done without harming the environment or affecting resident’s health should talk to people in Pennsylvania who are living through a nightmare,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “Families living in fracking zones around the country are struggling with poisoned drinking water, air pollution, fires, explosions, and even earthquakes. In the meantime, the boom-and-bust cycle that marks the fossil fuel industry leaves communities to clean up the mess left behind when the price of fuel is low.”

Signers of the businesses letter claim that Maryland’s tourism-based economy is not compatible with fracking’s negative effects on health, water, air and land. According to the letter, more than half of Garret County’s jobs and two-thirds of the tax base are derived from tourism-related real estate and business development.

“Fracking will decimate industries like tourism, real estate, and agriculture by industrializing farmland and contaminating land and water,” said Nadine Grabania, Owner of Deep Creek Cellars in Garrett County. “Who wants to go on vacation and see a fracking rig? No one. And when the industry leaves, Marylanders will be stuck with their mess. How are we supposed to develop after that?”

“As a resident of Garrett County, I want everyone to understand that many in our communities are outraged at the thought of fracking,” said Ann Bristow, Safe Drilling Initiative Commissioner. “We depend on tourism, outdoor recreation, and the vacation home tax base. If fracking moves in, our businesses will leave the area, our property values will plummet, our air, water, and soil will be threatened, and our health will be endangered.”

The future of Marylanders’ public health and environment rests on the passage of this bill,” said Maya Spaur, Director of Governmental Affairs, Student Sustainability Committee for UMD Student Government Association. “This session our legislators face a critical choice, a choice that should be easy.  The hydraulic fracturing process has been shown to leak toxic chemicals into our air and water sources, devastating local environments and causing adverse health effects—rendering our children, pregnant women, and the elderly most vulnerable.”

In addition to the economic shortfalls from fracking, its health effects cannot be ignored. Recent studies suggest there are significant adverse health risks from exposures related to fracking. Health professionals warn that it would be irresponsible to move forward with fracking at this time given the trends emerging in the science.

“As a health professional, I have a duty to prevent harm,” said Gina Angiola, M.D., Board Member of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and cofounder of CHP-Md. “There is no price tag that can be put on a family’s health or on permanent environmental degradation. The only way to truly protect Maryland communities is to prevent fracking from coming to Maryland at this time.”

For more information on the statewide campaign for a moratorium on fracking in Maryland:www.dontfrackmd.org.

Contact: Ryanne Waters – rwaters[at]fwwatch[dot]org

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February 25th, 2015

Governor Christie Sells Off New Jersey to the Highest Bidder

By Jim Walsh

It was Hurricane Sandy, the disastrous “super storm,” that thrust Governor Christie on to the national stage as a supposedly straight-talking hero of the common man. But the truth can’t hide forever. Sooner or later, Americans will come to realize what many of us in New Jersey have known all along: Christie is selling New Jersey off to the highest bidder, at the expense of hardworking families and our environment.

While Christie’s recent gaffs and scandals have been good fodder for late-night television comedians, behind these missteps is a governor tied to corporate interests that he hopes will fund his national political ambitions. It seems he’ll do just about anything to put those corporations ahead of regular people.

Early in his first term, Governor Christie created a privatization task force, creating a virtual road map for transferring billions of dollars in public assets to private profit driven companies. And throughout his tenure as governor, Christie has pushed to privatize public television, parts of the New Jersey Turnpike and Parkway, public parks, inspectors, and now our water.

Governor Christie just signed a bill that will open the floodgates for water system privatization in New Jersey. The bill removes an important requirement that communities have the right to vote on any water privatization plan and the rate details associated with it. The elimination of these important consumer protections are a dream come true to corporate water giants like American Water, which just donated $50,000 to the Republican Governor’s Association when Governor Christie was the chair.

Governor Christie used this his position as Governor’s Association chair to raise money and build his political presence and influence. But far more sinister is Governor Christie’s “gifts from friends” program. The program was enacted when Christie signed an executive order allowing the New Jersey governor (and only the governor) to accept large gifts from personal friends.

One of Christie’s personal friends seems to be Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who gifted Christie a $30,000 trip to a Cowboys playoff game. What folks may not know is that Jerry Jones amassed a fortune as on oil and gas mogul. This is concerning, considering that Christie recently refused to sign two bills that would have banned fracking and fracking waste in the state. At the same time he supported billions of dollars in ratepayer subsidies for the construction of fracked gas power plants in New Jersey, and a massive fracked gas pipeline through the Pinelands, a environmentally-protected area that preserves a 12 trillion-gallon fresh water aquifer in southern New Jersey.

Speaking of southern New Jersey, Christie has recently appointed an emergency fiscal manager for Atlantic City, a community on the brink of financial collapse due to long-term neglect and the downturn in Jersey’s casino industry. Instead of offering support, he appoints Kevyn Orr as the emergency manager. Kevyn Orr is the same person who, while serving as the emergency manager for Detroit, sought to solve Detroit’s financial struggles by recommending a fire sale of public assets, including their public water.

Governor Christie’s “gifts from friends” program has also garnered contributions from the King of Jordan and Sheldon G. Adelson, a wealthy casino owner. One can wonder exactly how much it costs to buy the governor’s friendship, but what is clear is that being “friends” with Christie comes with some fairly lucrative benefits.

January 30th, 2015

In Pennsylvania, Making Big Moves Against Fracking

Fracking rigBy Sam Bernhardt

Change happens when we make it happen. In the case of fracking, that change currently happens state-by-state.

Last month, our victory in New York changed the dynamics of what is possible for the fracking movement. With Governor Cuomo’s bold decision to ban fracking, we took what had been a campaign slogan and turned it into a reality. Last week, we brought the momentum that started with a victory in Albany and transformed it into one of the issues on the top of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s radar.

Monday, a day before Wolf was inaugurated, we published an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling on him to make stopping fracking a priority for his administration. Challenging Wolf to separate himself from former Governor Corbett’s failed policies on fracking, we wrote that Wolf was largely shaping up to be a continuation of the status quo: unchecked pollution and health risks from an unchecked industry.

We knew we would need more than just the facts to be heard by Wolf. So on Inauguration Day, we assembled more than 250 Pennsylvanians from all corners of the state at a church nearby the Capitol. We marched as a group to the Capitol, accompanied by Gasland’s Josh Fox, catching the attention of the legislators and reporters assembling at the inauguration site. Once the inauguration started, we took the demands spelled out in our op-ed the day before and chanted them directly to Wolf and all the attendees at the ceremony.

Attendees chanted “ban fracking now” with such volume it seemed our collective vocal cords would give out after a few minutes. But, as we went on, and reporters Tweeted that they were having trouble making out the content of Wolf’s remarks over our yells, we began to realize just how loud – and powerful – we really were. When all was said and done, we felt more confident than ever that Governor Wolf had truly heard us and internalized our strength.

Later in the week, Food & Water Watch released a report with Berks Gas Truth clarifying exactly why we had had so much trouble being heard by Wolf short of vocally taking over the inauguration: his ears had been clogged with money from the gas industry. Analyzing Wolf’s campaign finance reports, we found individuals, corporations and PACs associated with the gas industry totaled $1.5 million.

We have no illusions regarding how much work it will take to protect Pennsylvanians from fracking by winning a statewide halt. If anything, we now know exactly how much grassroots power we’ll need to show Wolf (roughly the equivalent of $1.5 million in industry payoffs.) But we know that by educating Pennsylvanians and engaging them, one by one, as a part of a statewide movement against fracking, we can win. And I am confident that with our leading partners in Pennsylvanians Against Fracking – Berks Gas Truth, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Marcellus Protest, and Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Air and Water – we have the commitment and motivation required to build what can be the most powerful –and most successful – coalition in the state.

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