Hinchey: Fracturing Responsibility


While being interviewed by WJFF’s  (90.5 FM) Dick Riseling,  Representative Maurice Hinchey discussed House Bill  (HR2766,  The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009) and its companion Senate Bill, S1215.

The bottom line:  Congress does not have the chops (votes) to pass a bill that will prevent contamination of our drinking water.

Last week the House of Representatives passed an energy bill with the bare number of votes needed (219).  To be sure, it incorporated truly radical ideas like reducing our dependence on fossil fuels but somehow, our intrepid Congress got the job done.

One listener, Susan Sullivan,  called in to say  that  chemicals do migrate to ground water and wondered if  the EPA would  be required to  rely on  real science in formulating its oversight  and enforcement policies of the drilling industry.

In response, Representative Hinchey said,  “Fifty-sixty years ago, we already understood  the dangers of contamination.”

But will the EPA be required to rely on that really available science in formulating its oversight and enforcement policies?

No answer.

The two frack bills do nothing more than:  force drilling companies to identify the chemical constituents used in hydraulic fracturing to a State administrator;  force the Administrator to make those constituents available to the public;  and to make proprietary compounds available in emergencies (after proper permissions have been filed and, where appropriate,  confidentiality agreements are signed.)

How much less demanding can The Public  be, for Pete’s sake?  It’s akin to asking,  “Please tell me what the slop in the bowl is before I eat it.”

No more than common courtesy, I say.

And how many Congresspeople have signed on as sponsors to this White Flag?   Ten in the House of Representatives and two in the Senate.

The Natural Resources Defense Council attorney,  Kate Sindling,  was next up.  She encouraged all of us to support the bill because, in context, it’s the best we can do and even though the chemical disclosure provision is a no-brainer, its passage is not assured.  “I echo Congressman Hinchey,” said Attorney Sinding.  “‘Let’s get this thing passed.’   It’s a critical first step.  The public will be able to determine  whether chemicals are turning up in the water after  hydraulic fracturing.    It makes the actual chemical components available to  medical people in case of emergencies and  ill health.  It makes epidemiologic studies possible.”

In other words, once we’re poisoned, we’ll know by what.  And ten years from now, we’ll know to what extent.  (By the way,  the “Frac Act” specifically exempts injections of natural gas for underground storage from its disclosure requirements.)

Attorney Sindling  also reminded us that the Clean Drinking Water Act refers to public waters and suggested pressure would be required for the EPA to consider private wells as “public.”  Here followed some mumblety jumbo about the water in private wells coming from  aquifers which are in the public domain.  “Hopefully,”  Attorney Sindling said, “we’ll be able to pressure the EPA into extending its definition of  ‘public’  to include  those private wells.”

And just exactly how many rural dwellers drink from city wells?

Finally, when a caller said (in so many words)  that The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009  ignores known dangers and does nothing to prevent contamination (“The water will be polluted!” he insisted) Ms. Sinding laid this bombshell,  “We at the Natural Resources Defense Council are treating  hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus shale as a foregone conclusion.  So  the best we can do is try to come up with effective ways to protect…” people’s interests after the fact.

So let me make sure I’ve got it:   if we can demonstrate we’ve been “injured” (asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, autoimmune diseases, liver failure, cancer and other ailments such as headaches, nausea, and sleeplessness) we can then use the publicized list of poisons in an effort  to prove (in a lawsuit) what sickened us.

Even better, our ill health won’t be in vain!   Purpose has been delivered to us out of the dark!   We’ll be the subjects of epidemiologic studies!  It’s not the same as having our names in lights on Broadway and there’s no guarantee the studies will be funded, but what do we expect from an Oligarchy?

*      *       *      *

Legal note:  In Coalition of Towns v. EPA the United States Court of Appeals for the Second  Circuit articulated who has standing to bring a lawsuit:

“As a threshold matter, the EPA argues that, under the “case-or-controversy” requirement of Article III of the Constitution, the Towns lack standing to bring this petition because they have not
suffered any “injury-in-fact,” i.e., an invasion of a legally protected interest that is “concrete and particularized . . . and [ ] actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical”. (Lujan v. Defenders of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)… see also id. at 560-61 (holding that the three elements of Article III standing are (1) an “injury in fact” that is (2) causally related (“fairly traceable”) to the challenged action and (3) likely to be redressed by a favorable court decision).”

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