Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo have a message– the people don’t want fracking. According to a recent Forbes magazine article, Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Gas, and the chief proponent for fracking, consumes $20,000 bottles of wine. Like many CEO’s, he travels by corporate jet. Yet in an employee memo, McClendon felt himself bested by the citizens calling for water and health protection. He warned his employees that “Our opponents are extremely well-funded.”
But on Monday when hundreds of people from all parts of the Mid-Atlantic region converged on Trenton, N.J. for a rally to protect the Delaware River from fracking, McClendon’s “well-funded” opponents traveled by bus, carrying their signs and their bag lunches with them. And yet in a time of economic crisis, this dedicated citizenry is making itself heard over the better funded corporate P.R. and advertising campaigns.
With a surprise setback to fracking occurring late last week, the rally on the steps of the War Memorial, and the walk to the State legislature was one part cautious victory celebration, one part rededication rally.
“You won this round. You brought us back from the brink of total devastation. But there’s still more work to do,” Josh Fox, director of the Oscar-nominated film, Gasland, told the gathering, which was originally scheduled for attendance at a meeting of the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC.) Slated to ratify fracking regulations agreed to in private sessions, the five person commission representing four states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) and the President (represented by the Army Corps of Engineers) had issued guidelines to permit fracking in the Delaware River Basin, which supplies water to millions of people. The DRBC public meeting was to have formally ratified those guidelines, launching the fracking of the Delaware. But the session was cancelled at the last minute.
According to Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network that lead the coalition of grass roots groups organizing the event, the DRBC decision-making process “offered no real opportunity for public feedback. The decisions were all made behind closed doors,” despite the pro-forma vote at public sessions.
But the public had its say nevertheless. Through over twenty-thousand phone calls to the President and the four governors, “well-informed, well-educated, well-versed citizens voiced their concerns and educated their elected officials,” says van Rossum. On Thursday night, moved by the public outcry, Delaware’s Governor Markell announced his decision to vote no, joining New York’s Governor Cuomo. With PA Governor Corbett and Governor Christie likely to approve, if the vote came down to a Democrat vs. Republican standoff, the President’s representative would have been in position to cast the deciding vote. “They wanted more of a consensus,” the Delaware Riverkeeper said.
With the cancellation, there’s no outright ban, but fracking in the Delaware is now stalled for an indeterminate amount of time. “As more about this practice comes to light, what politicians had treated as a political issue now becomes better recognized as a public health threat, making them more reluctant to allow fracking’s risks,” van Rossum predicts.
At the rally podium, Fox placed a call to PA Governor Corbett. The phone rang and rang, without any answer. “No one’s home in the Governor’s mansion,” Fox quipped, a reference to Pennsylvania’s lack of taxation or oversight of fracking, with little recourse for citizens who claim harm.
Actor Mark Ruffalo told the crowd that the political temptation to trade life basics, like water, air, land, and food for energy amounts to a “spiritual crisis” for the U.S. He characterized Dimock, PA, as the “Ground Zero” for fracking devastation.
The water supply of Dimock (located in the Northeastern portion of the state) was visibly contaminated after fracking, and has been without water for three years. Craig Sauter of Dimock told the rally that in their drilling leases, residents were guaranteed restoration of water in the event of contamination. But the PA State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) failed to follow through on an agreement to compel Cabot Energy to build a water pipeline to the town. Instead, Cabot has trucked water buffaloes to Dimock residents but recently announced that they’ll stop in a few weeks. Last week, a capitol district policewoman phoned Sautner to say that if he persists in calling the governor and the DEP, he will be arrested for harassment.
“We’ll call for you, we’ll call for you!” chanted the rally participants, echoing the “human mike” used in OccupyWallStreet.
A pair of teachers leading a group of New Jersey school children on a tour of the State Capitol passed the fractivists on their walk to the legislature. The teachers asked what was going on. As I told them that people had gathered to protect the Delaware River, (and why) I noticed the still, intent faces of the ten year olds. They had pressed forward and were taking in every word. I felt a pang of sadness that children had to feel concern for the safety of their world.
But as the crowd surged along on the walk, they began the OWS chant, “This is what democracy looks like.”
Oh well, I thought, they came for a civics lesson, and they got one.
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