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April 3rd, 2014

MD Fracking Health Study Narrow, Hasty, and Underfunded Say Health Experts

 Health Groups Call On Gov. O’Malley and Maryland Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission 

To Extend Deadline On Health Study

Baltimore—Today, a commissioner from Governor Martin O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale Commission joined three leading medical advocacy groups at a press conference in Baltimore in critiquing the timeline and scope of a study on the possible health impacts of shale gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” that is scheduled for release in June.

Representatives from the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE), Maryland Environment Health Network (MdEHN), Concerned Health Professionals of New York  (CHPNY), Food and Water Watch and Ann Bristow warned that the study is poised to fall woefully short of meeting international standards and health study guidelines for protecting public health. 

They called on Governor O’Malley to commit more resources and to extend the health study deadline in order to fully assess the potential health effects to all Marylanders. They also noted that the study is limited to investigating possible impacts on public health only among residents of Western Maryland, even though exploitable shale gas reserves are located across the state.

“We are watching the emerging science from other states show increasing harms from fracking. We’re hearing about poisoned drinking water and radioactive waste, as well as smog in places that used to have pristine air.  So it is clear that an eight month study period, funded at $150,000 does not suffice to assess even the top tier of costly health impacts that fracking will likely have in Western Maryland, let alone the rest of the state,” said Rebecca Ruggles, Director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network said.

“As it currently stands, the State of Maryland is conducting a flawed, rushed, and superficial study that will not help inform Maryland residents—nor their elected officials—about the full burden of possible health risks from the entire process of shale gas extraction,” said Katie Huffling, a registered nurse and the director of programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “As nurses, we are also gravely concerned that they will not be including a health cost assessment in their study. If the public is being asked to assume health risks from fracking, it deserves a comprehensive investigation of those risks and their economic costs, not a fig leaf.”

Health professionals across the country have argued that a Health Impact Assessment (HIA)—a specific National Research Council-sanctioned process developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization (among others)—must be conducted to inform any decision as critical as whether or not fracking should be permitted in states. 

“Drilling and fracking operations are inherently dangerous and pose demonstrable risks to health, especially for children, pregnant women and other vulnerable people living nearby,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD and cofounder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. “The proper tool for investigating these impacts is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment with its vetted protocols and seal of approval by national and international public health institutions. A comprehensive HIA with full public participation, not a rushed study with a political deadline, is what the people of Maryland need and deserve. “

The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission is currently scheduled to make a final recommendation on fracking in August to Governor Martin O’Malley that will include the health assessment report. 

Ann Bristow, a current commissioner on the Advisory Commission, also joined the medical advocates in calling for more time.

“As a member of Governor O’Malley’s Safe Drilling Initiative Commission, I am very worried that we are moving too fast and not getting all the health data we need to make protective recommendations to the residents of Maryland,” said Bristow. “Several commissioners have repeatedly asked for more time and a more thorough scope of work on these critical health issues. If the health study team were on schedule, we would have received the baseline health assessment, with public commentary, last month. We need more time and a guarantee of transparency and public participation.”

Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director Jorge Aguilar added that the O’Malley administration should pay attention to the demands of the health community.

“After two years of a largely unfunded process, Governor O’Malley’s administration now seems to be rushing through the final year, when specific studies just got started,” said Food & Water Watch Regional Organizing Director Jorge Aguilar. “The health study team has already missed its first deadline and it’s not clear that the health community will have time to comment on the final report.  The writing is on the wall: this will be an inadequate study unless the time line is drastically modified to address the concerns of the health community.”

Contacts:

Jorge Aguilar – 202-683-2529; [email protected]

Rich Bindell – 202-683-2457; [email protected]

 

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April 1st, 2014

Anti-Frackers Hot on Cuomo’s Reelection Trail

By Seth Gladstone

In New York, it’s an election year. Slowly but surely, Governor Andrew Cuomo is emerging from his tightly managed and typically sparse pubic appearance schedule to attend an expanding roster of ribbon-cuttings and party fundraisers. Which means the anti-fracking masses are once again hot on Cuomo’s trail.

As noted – with a photograph – in the New York Daily News, more than 150 New Yorkers of all stripes turned up recently outside a swanky Manhattan hotel to remind Cuomo of exactly what his next eight months will look like (unless he bans fracking, that is.) Days later, the crowds were out on Long Island, with the same simple message for the governor: we’re not leaving until you do the right thing for our families and our future.

As the movement against fracking in New York continues to grow, new activists, new advocates, and new constituencies are joining every day. In a state still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy, climate change has taken increasing prominence in anti-fracking circles.

In what sadly should come as no surprise to anyone with an eighth grade education, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently confirmed the stark, terrifying reality of human-impacted climate change. “Water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying… and the world’s food supply is at considerable risk.” Lovely.

While the immense scale and complexity of the crisis seems daunting, the antidote to our stubborn fossil fuel addiction is actually quite simple: it’s political leadership.  This leadership can and must be exhibited by elected officials here in America that claim to be responsible, forward-thinking policy makers, but have yet to support such claims with actions.  Officials like Andrew Cuomo.

In this election year, New Yorkers will be leading the charge for a future beyond fossil fuels, and without fracking. Governor Cuomo will be getting an earful. Stay tuned.

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March 11th, 2014

Caught Between a Watershed and a Marketplace

By Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper

For the life of me I cannot understand why anybody serious about reducing or stopping the degradation of our nation’s waters would consider that trading pollution is a realistic way to do so. So far, the only regulated interests that have expressed interest in trading pollution on my local river are those that cannot meet their current pollution caps, and so they would like to simply pay more money to keep on polluting. While some refer to it as cap-and-trade, we’d be more accurate calling it trade-and-pay.

In a variation of the same approach, there are a few such interests that have managed to acquire surplus capacity to discharge into a waterway and so they hope to get paid to sell their surplus capacity to somebody else who can use it. For the years I have been sounding the alarm about the evils of trading, at least some environmentalists have argued that it is pointless to oppose this because the “train has already left the station.” But, isn’t the point to reduce pollution, not make sure everybody pollutes up to their regulated limits?

Even if the math and the concept of market incentives like trading somehow make sense to you in the context of conservation, then how about moral problems? How does it square with basic fairness that somebody can pollute in one place and then compensate for it elsewhere with cash? The answer is that it is outrageous, and deferring pollution onto others is a recipe for fundamental injustice. Consequently, those with the most attractive “marketplaces” will get the very best environmental quality money can buy. Everyone else will get only trades as the gap between environmental haves and have-nots will just get wider. Read more…

March 10th, 2014

The Backroom Out Front in Annapolis

By Mitch Jones

It was slick business as usual last week in the Maryland Environmental Matters Committee. If you blinked, you might have missed your chance to count the votes on HB 409.  

On Friday, March 7, a bill that would have banned the treatment, storage, discharge and disposal of fracking wastewater or “flow back” in Maryland was up for a vote in the committee. The bill was sponsored by Del. Shane Robinson and had 33 additional cosponsors, including eight members of the committee. Yet, even with that level of support, leadership dismissed the bill as if it were an unserious piece of legislation.

The legislation is necessary because the state’s wastewater facilities are not equipped to handle or process many of the chemicals that would turn up in fracking fluid, so the bill was designed to protect Maryland’s wastewater systems from fracking associated risks. And while there is currently no fracking wastewater coming into Maryland, fracking wastewater was treated in Baltimore in 2010 and there is no law in place to prevent this happening again when there’s a new administration in 2015. Read more…

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March 7th, 2014

Del. McIntosh Kills Fracking Wastewater Bill, Leaves Maryland Vulnerable to Contaminants From Out-of-State Fracking Waste

Statement by Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Annapolis, MD — “Yesterday, the Maryland House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee lost a valuable opportunity to provide protection for Marylanders against the dangers of fracking when it blocked legislation to ban the treatment, storage, disposal, and discharge of fracking wastewater in Maryland. It’s regrettable that the committee wasn’t allowed to pass the legislation.

“It’s outrageous that instead of asking for a simple yes or no vote, Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh asked ‘Who needs to vote for this to get re-elected?’ The fact that she then told a legislator that he didn’t need the vote ‘down there’ in his district shows her intent to not let the legislation through no matter how much support it had in committee.

“Since fracking wastewater is exempted from federal-and state-level regulations pertaining to hazardous waste, thanks to the oil and gas industry, there is no reason why Maryland legislators shouldn’t at least provide protections for water and public health, as the state continues to debate on fracking.

“Currently, Maryland is not equipped to safely manage the hazardous waste produced by fracking and drilling, and the state’s wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to handle the contaminants typically contained in fracking wastewater.”

Contact: Rich Bindell, 202-683-2457, [email protected]

 

 

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December 19th, 2013

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Acknowledges Dangers of Fracking in Decision to Empower Communities

Statement of Food & Water Watch Pennsylvania Organizer Sam Bernhardt

Philadelphia, Pa. — “Today’s decision by the State Supreme Court is a huge victory for communities throughout Pennsylvania that have been fighting desperately against the devastating realities of fracking that big oil and gas corporations – and our bought-off governor – have thrust upon them. This decision is a stark acknowledgement from our top court that fracking is indeed hazardous to public health and the environment, and should therefore be regulated by communities that don’t want it. As we’re seeing from a growing fracking moratorium movement in the State Legislature, there are more and more Pennsylvania communities turning against fracking every day. We are sure to see many of them acting immediately to protect themselves with local legislation against drilling.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – sgladstone(at)fwwatch(dot)org, 718.943.8063

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September 23rd, 2013

For Democrats Nationwide, Pennsylvania Offers a Lens on the Widening Rift Over Fracking

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

By Wenonah Hauter

The Democratic Party has a few problems. Recently, President Obama has been forced to confront growing discord within his own party over a number of issues, from foreign policy to economics and the nomination of a new Federal Reserve chair. But another fissure between the Obama Administration and rank-and-file Democrats across the country, one that’s been slowly developing for years, has suddenly cracked wide open. It threatens to split the party in two, just as it quite literally splits the bedrock beneath our feet. It is the extreme gas drilling and extraction process know as fracking.

In large, solidly Blue states like California and New York, where Democrats with national responsibilities (or national aspirations) consistently look for inspiration and cash, local grassroots movements against fracking have evolved and expanded into mainstream statewide forces. But perhaps more notably, resistance to fracking among Democrats has also recently flourished in states less reliably liberal, less environmentally inclined, and situated smack in the middle of oil and gas country. States like Pennsylvania. Read more…

September 13th, 2013

Bethel, Connecticut

Bethel Action Committee Press Conference

Cynthia McCorkindale and Billy Michael (on the left) of the Bethel Action Committee at a press conference opposing the sale of the Bethel’s water system to Aquarion Water Co., July 2013
(Image courtesy of the Bethel Action Committee, from video by Chris Ford)

In July 2013, voters in Bethel, Conn., resoundingly rejected a plan to sell their water system to Aquarion Water Company. Aquarion is controlled by an investment fund of Australian bank Macquarie.

“Not only were we up against the Board of Selectmen and Public Utilities Commission who were trying to push the deal through, but also Aquarion itself, who bankrolled a local pro-sale PAC that had formed a week prior to the referendum. Many residents were furious that Town leaders had pursued, negotiated and finalized the deal behind closed doors, and then felt betrayed by the shortsighted details of the contract once it was revealed. Had we surrendered control of our valuable water resources, it would have been lost forever.”

- Cynthia McCorkindale, Co-chair and Event Coordinator of the Bethel Action Committee

The public first heard about the proposed sale less than three months earlier. At the end of April 2013, many residents were dismayed to learn that town officials had been in closed-door talks to sell their essential water resources to Aquarion for more than a year. Billy Michael — head of the Bethel Action Committee, the taxpayer advocacy group that led the charge to stop the sale — told the News-Times, “The fact that the Public Utilities Commission has been negotiating the sale of our water and natural resources without any public knowledge for the past year should give every citizen in Bethel a chill down their spine.” 

Town officials supported the sale because the water system needed improvements to expand existing water supplies and the city of Danbury refused to let the town build a new water tank where the town wanted. Town officials thought Aquarion wouldn’t be subject to the same land-use restrictions. This reasoning fell far short of convincing residents that the town should give up control of an essential resource.

Bethel officials tried to ram the water system sale through a public vote by playing fast and loose with state laws about public meetings and referenda. Perhaps, they thought haste would favor the sale by limiting public discussion about the consequences. If so, this plan backfired.

Residents balked at the rushed and nontransparent process. The Bethel Action Committee rallied the opposition questioning the reasons behind the sale and criticizing the town’s hasty approach. Connecticut Fund for the Environment and the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut raised concerns about the environmental consequences of sacrificing public control over more than 290 acres of pristine watershed land. Food & Water Watch provided information about how water privatization is bad for consumers saddling them with high rates and unaccountable service.

In the end, the town failed to assuage residents’ worries about the loss of public control over their essential water services.

On July 18, 2013, more than 70 percent of voting Bethel residents rejected the sale of their water system to Aquarion.

 

Related Information

 

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August 27th, 2013

On a Trip to Fracking Country, Hearing of Hardships Firsthand

Fracking victim Ray Kemble

By Jill Pape

On a recent road trip to Pennsylvania, I saw a sight that was both familiar and unfamiliar: fracking rigs.  Though I’d been working for the past year with Food & Water Watch and had seen countless images of fracking, it was my first time seeing the drilling process up close and personal. And out there in Pennsylvania, the sight of drilling rigs was hard to miss. Driving down the main road in Dimock, Pennsylvania, we saw well pads every few hundred feet — many just a stone’s throw away from neighborhood homes.

But beyond the familiar drilling rigs, much of what I saw in Dimock was a huge surprise. Where I’d expected to come across outraged citizens and families complaining about tainted water, what I encountered instead was chilling: silence.

Where were all the families I’d seen in Gasland, lighting their tap water on fire and speaking out about their fracking-induced migraines and mystery rashes? As we passed home after home of suspiciously quiet residents, the truth began to surface. Read more…

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July 16th, 2013

Sale of Bethel’s Water System Would be a “Tax Through the Tap”

By Seth Gladstone

The proposed sale of Bethel, Connecticut’s drinking water system to Aquarion is a bad deal for residents and one that they should reject. Not only would the privatization mean much higher water rates for town residents in the future, it would also take the drinking water system out of local public oversight and control.

Aquarion agreed to charge the same rates as the town would charge through 2015, but after this period, the company will likely bring Bethel’s rates up to those of its Eastern Division – an extra $141 a year, or 37 percent more. Plus, Aquarion seeks a rate increase once every three years, and right now, the company is seeking to hike its Eastern Division rates by 23 percent over the next three years, which would bring the typical household’s annual bill up to $642 by 2015.

Statistically, privately owned water systems charge higher rates than publicly owned water systems of the same scale. This makes sense. Privatized water systems have two key disadvantages that drive up their rates significantly. First and foremost, private utilities demand profit on their investments. This profit motive compels regulated utilities to overinvest and prioritize reimbursed capital expenditure over efficiency. This is a well-established economic phenomenon, and it comes at the expense of ratepayers.

Read more…

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