WJFF: Community Radio’s Future

(This article derives, in part, from a September 23, 2009  WJFF Board of Trustees  meeting.   Under normal circumstances, it would have been  published  within 24 hours of the meeting.  Instead,  for  four days, I’ve fretted and edited.

WJFF  has touched each of us whether we know it or not.  Its in-depth interviews of local, national and international activists have broadened and influenced our local  debates about  casinos, dams,  flooding and the advent of hydraulic fracturing.  During the lead up to the Iraq Invasion,  while  other journalists cheered  the fear mongers,  we  listened to WJFF   and heard  85 year old  Robert Byrd  lead the filibuster against granting the President preemptive war powers.  In a shaky voice,  he outlined  the Constitutional limits of Presidential power and Congress’ obligations.  We had no doubt  the moment was historic and potent.

But WJFF’s contributions have  been individual and personal as well.  The kids, including my youngest son, who participated in The Station’s  Youth Radio Project will never forget the safe haven where their creative juices could erupt in wonderful and often unpredictable ways.

It has been, quite simply, an integral part of our evolution as a region.)

*    *    *    *    *

“In 1986, WJFF founders Malcolm Brown and Anne Larsen put an ad in some of the newspapers around Jeffersonville.  It asked if there were folks in the area that were interested in having a public radio station, and if so, would they come  to a meeting about it at the Lake Jefferson Hotel.  This was the beginning of WJFF.   Station lore has the number of people who came to that initial meeting growing and growing.  (It’s up to over a hundred by now) but in actuality, somewhere between 40 and 50 people arrived at the Lake Jefferson Hotel that first night.  But hundreds of community members were involved from that day forward in getting  the station on the air February 12, 1990….”  (WJFF  “Soundings”  newsletter, 2005 retrospective.)

Twenty-three years later, on September 17, 2009, the following  email was forwarded  by a friend who has no  station-affiliation, “There have been internal issues that the volunteers, the Community Advisory Board (CAB) and Board of Trustees  (BOT) of our community radio Station, WJFF, have not been able to iron out.”  The writer then asked community supporters of  WJFF to attend the Board of Trustee’s meeting on September 23rd.

Regular listeners of WJFF  knew that Walter Keller,  host of  First Class Classicals (one of the station’s longest running shows)  and his production assistant,  Bill Jumper, had been either “fired,”  “suspended,” or  “dismissed”  after their August 29, 2009 show.  (In fact,  Mr.  Jumper resigned.)

In a letter to Community Advisory Board (CAB) member, Matt Frumess,  WJFF’s Board of Trustees President, Steve Van Benschoten wrote,   “…the two volunteers had “[violated] one of the cardinal rules of the station.  On page 9 of the volunteer manual,” he stated,  “you will find this injunciton:  ‘Volunteers may not use WJFF airwaves, events, listserve or links to discuss station politics.’   The rule is there to prevent an on-air person from using their program as a bully pulpit to present their case…. We simply can’t have this.  That is why they were suspended.”

Furthermore, Mr. Van Benschoten explained,  Walter and Bill had  run afoul of  WJFF-procedure,  “We have a process in place at the station for grievances to be mediated.  If a programmer feels that the Program Committee is wrong in their assessment of his  or her performance, they can take the matter up with the Board of Trustees (BOT), bringing supporters and arguments to bear on their side of the isue.  Instead, Walter and Bill chose to seize an opportunity on-air, in violation of station rules, to thumb their noses at the procedures WJFF has set in place to establish a rule of fairness and justice.  We simply can’t have this.  That is why they were suspended.”

(Breathing note:  Not only is the Program Committee appointed by the BOT, but   WJFF’s new 2008  “conflict resolution policy”  describes  the grievance process  somewhat differently,  “Volunteers who feel they have been treated unfairly in mediated dispute or who feel unjustly accused of violation of WJFF regulations may present their case to the Board of Trustees provided that…They submit their argument in writing to the Board of Trustees.  The Board may or may not decide to hear from the complainant or complainants in person.“)  (I was unable to find this document online for linking purposes.)

During the Board of Trustees meeting on September 23, 2009 and in subsequent emails, several volunteers disputed Mr. Van Benschoten’s   contention that a  forum exists where  the public, volunteers and station management can openly discuss their differences. Others  expressed a need for change in the way Trustees,  the Station Manager and members of the various boards are selected or appointed.  “It’s in-grown and self-perpetuating,”  one volunteer said and several echoed.

According to the station’s by-laws, most members of  The Board of Trustees are appointed by currently-serving Trustees and  no more than three Trustees are elected  by the active volunteers at the station.

Further,  The Board of Trustees determines the number of Trustee vacancies to be filled during any given election  cycle, appoints members to standing committees, approves  the Community Advisory Board and hires  the Station Manager.

“I don’t know what we can do,” wrote one volunteer after the  BOT  meeting where  she was not afforded an opportunity to speak.  “I want to try and work through the differences in a diplomatic fashion, but we are not even being allowed a forum…can’t talk on the list serve, can’t talk via email….  It’s a scary situation….Winston [Station Manager] and Steve can argue that we were there to discuss a ‘personnel’ issue (which isn’t always open to discussion), but they both knew through my emails that I had other concerns – lack of communication, lack of leadership, the feel of the station changing etc.  Walter and Bill are the underlying symptom of a much deeper problem….I do know that there are people who have stopped listening.   This is not due to the Walter/Bill issue but the fact that we are sounding too homogenized – where are all the community voices?”

*   *   *   *   *

So what did Walter and Bill  say on-air during First Class Classicals  that simply could not be borne by station management?

Walter led off  by referring to a recent change he’d made in deference to the Programming Committee:    “We don’t have the international weather.”

Bill Jumper:  We’re going to change a lot of things at First Class Classicals because this program has come under some pretty serious criticism from the WJFF Programming Committee.   They are saying that the paramount concern is  the audience so what we would like to do is ask our listeners out there… to ask you to let us know what you think of the aspects of the program as we’ve been doing it.  And, if we have some  good reports  for the programming committee  we would like to have  some of those to do…  otherwise  you’ll  see some probably pretty signifcant changes here at  First Class Classicals  here on WJFF.

Walter:  Thanks, Bill.

Bill Jumper:  Please participate. Please send in your cards and letters.  Please call the station and let them know what you think of  First Class Classicals.

Walter:  Thank you, Bill.   What is the number  on the voice box for people to call?

Bill Jumper:    There is no  voicebox anymore.

Walter:  Oh.  There’s no more voicebox?  (Gives WJFF’s  phone and address information.)

Walter:   I will say this… that each of us individually and collectively  have  had very positive feedback  about how the show begins.

Bill Jumper:  We have had some but  we just need more of our listeners to participate.  To let the station manager know what you think about this program.  Because you are  our first concern.   It’s why we are all here.  We aren’t doing this for the station manager or the  programming committee, so please give us a response and let us know if we’re pleasing you.  If we’re not, by all means we will change anything you’d like us to change   This program has been singled out for some very severe criticism, in my opinion by the program committee.

Walter:  I will second that…

Then, at the top of the next hour,  Bill  said,  “We just wanted to remind you that we need your support.  We’ve received some information from the Programming Committee that they want to substantially change some of the thngs we do here at First Class Classicals.  And so we would like your input and, as is true of us too,   the paramount concern is you the listeners  so please give us your support.  (Provides station contact information.)

(Breathing note:  During fund drives, this kind of conversation occurs on  most of  The Station’s on-air shows.  In the midst of  WAMC  fund drives,  personnel frequently allude to  bean-counters, program decisions  and hatchets,  “So now’s the time, if you want to keep this program,  you have to step up,”  or words to that effect.)

*   *   *   *   *

In  response to Walter’s  suspension and Bill Jumper’s resignation,  CAB member, Matt Frumess wrote,  “At the last regular CAB meeting…,  Walter Keller read a directive from the Programming committee… [which] included… some specific things involving the content of his show.  These things included shortening his international  weather segment and instructions to begin playing music as soon  as the local weather was done.  Frankly, Walter was less perturbed by these items than were many members of our board.

“The meeting ended after several of us expressed our concern about the station management micro-managing our station’s shows and, in general, meddling with the content of ongoing shows….All of us who listened to Bill’s short requests were surprised by  how innocuous they were.  We had all expected to hear some sort of tirade….By this time, word had gotten out that Walter’s show had been cancelled and emails and listserve entries hit the fan;  nearly all respondents were appalled by the heavy-handed behavior of the station management.”

Mr.  Frumess then laid out  four conclusions reached  unanimously by  the CAB:

  • “that Walter and Bill be reinstated immediately…  We feel that….there was nothing said that was so egregious that it should have elicited the immediate and inappropriate reaction it did.
  • that  given the extraordinary contributions made to the station by both Walter and Bill, the heavy-handed manner in which they were treated sends a dangerous message to all the current and prospective  volunteers at the station… As the CAB, representing a devoted listening audience, we expect the station management to maintain its community orientation and ts commitment to diversity, free speech and fair play
  • globally, that the recent behavior of the station management is being seen as a threat…to the integrity of WJFF as we know it….diversity requires freedom for  programmers and staff to express themselves as they see fit…unless they stray dramatically from the shows original proposed content or violate the law or specific station standards…
  • that the removal of the voicebox call-in line was inadvisable and should be restored.  The station needs a safe harbor mechanism for listeners to call….With our  mission to  serve a broad-based community, we need any source of feedback we can get.”

(Breathing note:  Walter Keller and BOT President, Steve Van Benschoten both attended the CAB meeting described here by Mr. Frumess.  Mr. Van Benschoten  was  aware that  Walter had  agreed to the Programming Committee’s recommendations and had begun to implement  them.  Nonetheless  —  and without making his intention clear at the CAB meeting  —   the Station Manager was directed to call Walter the next morning  and inform him [after nearly 20 years on  air] “that he and Bill Jumper were indefinitely suspended for violating station policy.”)

*   *   *   *   *

In a letter written after the September 23rd  BOT meeting where Walter’s suspension was discussed in Executive Session,  Mr. Van Benschoten wrote,  “I’m pleased to announce that the Board of Trustees’ voted to reinstate Walter Keller to the airwaves and that Walter has agreed to the conditions… I also want to inform the volunteers that the Board of Trustees has accepted Bill Jumper’s verbal resignation from the station, and (as he requested) a written acceptance of his resignation has been sent to his home.  There were many issues that were left unsaid and unanswered at the Sept. 23rd meeting due to the time limits unexpectedly imposed by the Jeffersonville Library.  At our next meeting, most likely in the Village Hall adjacent to the library, we hope to have much more time to hear from all who attend.  There were many issues that were left unsaid and unanswered at the Sept. 23rd meeting due to the time limits unexpectedly imposed by the Jeffersonville Library.  At our next meeting, most likely in the Village Hall adjacent to the library, we hope to have much more time to hear from all who attend.”  (Breathing note:  If you want to receive  meeting notices, you can sign up for the WJFF newsletter.)

*   *   *   *   *

Breathing opinion:  WJFF  must be cherished  as a valuable community resource.  Its capacity for a full-breadth of discussions  cannot be lost to us in a time when its service area faces the challenges of hydraulic fracturing,  multiple casino developments, increased job losses  and failing revenue streams.  It would be helpful to have WJFF’s alphabet soup of  committees,   volunteers and  concerned members of the public convene  in “town hall”   venues throughout the listening area.  The community of current listeners, those who’ve drifted away and those who haven’t  found 90.5  yet, must be given an opportunity to  help formulate the way forward.

Hopefully, the  currently in-grown system which has

  • Trustees appointing themselves and standing committee members
  • approving CAB’s members and chairperson  while also
  • hiring and tactically directing the duties of  the Station Manager

will be replaced by a  more inclusive,  elective process.

Since its inception, WJFF has reflected  the rough-hewn, down-to-earth flavor of  the village streets and sharp winters where it lives.   Despite some of those villages being more gentrified   than they were twenty three years ago, we’ve  learned through hard times that no set of hands is less than another and that all voices and visions must be actively sought.  Otherwise, we face a future  scored  by the divisiveness of  “them and us.”  Given WJFF’s legacy to us — that  a strong community can build anything it conceives —  such an outcome would be a terrible waste.

As would forgetting this phrase from WJFF’s  Mission Statement,  “Radio Catskill… aims to involve the community in preserving and transmitting its own cultural heritage and artistic expressions….”

To paraphrase a question raised by one volunteer after the  BOT meeting was cut short, “How does replacing  Walter’s homegrown First Class Classicals with  a canned program sponsored by British Petroleum (BP) involve or preserve the   ‘community’?”    We’re a  (*%@$%*^@!)-ing hydro-powered radio station!”

A highly-charged debate about hydraulic fracturing is taking place in WJFF’s listening community. British Petroleum will receive 32.5% of  revenues generated by Chesapeake hydraulically fracturing the Marcellus Shale.  For the BOT or Programming Committee to say, “You can’t blame us; canned programs come with sponsorship embedded,”  is, politely-speaking, insufficient.  Please see an earlier Breathing article, “Tom Paxton’s  We Didn’t Know.”

The View Outside My Window: E.L. Fairchild

(“The View Outside My Window”  is a new feature at  Breathing Is Political.  As our lives in the Delaware River Basin meet the inexorable  forces of  the economy, health issues, resource degradation, etc. I’ve asked people whose perspectives are outside our ordinary to tell us what they see.  Today,  Breathing is  pleased  to present the view outside E. L. Fairchild’s window.  Don’t forget to view    Ms. Fairchild’s  work request at  CottageWorks’ Swaps, Barters & Freebies page as well as  the reference posted on her behalf at  the Refer-A-Worker page. )


I’m not what one might call a ‘News Person.’ I don’t like hearing about the horrible ways people treat each other – it makes me sad about being human. I am aware of the important things and will listen in when the news is on where I happen to be, but I prefer it most in comic forms – The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and mostly Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR. Therefore, when it comes to The Recession, my experiences are strictly personal.

What exactly is a recession? Dictionary.com defines it as: Economics. a period of an economic contraction, sometimes limited in scope or duration. To me it means everyone else is panicking about the cost of living. Living costs. That’s a truth I’ve come to accept and I don’t let it bother me. Why worry if it doesn’t get you anything but worry lines? I know that I am blessed with an abundance of friends and family that are willing to help me when I’m down, but even without such a support network in place, I’ve found that by being nice and offering to help in exchange, there are more than enough people in the world that will extend a helping hand. Moreover, it seems to have doubled or tripled in the current ‘economic crisis.’

The Recession seems to be making a positive impact in the world as far as I am concerned. People are buying less in a society that has thus far been consumer driven. People are becoming more aware of ‘living Green,’ even if it’s just because of the money they save. Because gas prices keep going up, alternative fuels and smaller cars are surfacing, also something that will help the planet. Therefore, I think The Recession has been a good thing for Mother Nature.

I am a live-in nanny and have been for the past 3 years. In my spare time, I like to travel and experience the world, and for a Gypsy like me The Recession has been kind in many ways. The cost of airfare keeps going down. Although the ‘checked bag fees’ are new and quite annoying, most of the time I travel with a carry-on sized backpack, so it doesn’t affect me. It’s also inspiring others to do the same, thus the need for so many things is fading away. Simplicity is the order of the day.

Currently, I am looking for a place to live and a new job. According to the News and the gossip around the world, it’s not a good time for such things. In my experience, I’m finding the opposite. Many people are looking to rent rooms in houses or apartments in order to cut back on expenses. Car-pooling (another wonderfully Green thing) is more and more accessible with web sites like ZimRide.com. Jobs are most definitely there to be had, you may just need to dig a little deeper than you did before. I’ve found that communities are banding together to help each other out. Things like the Upper Delaware Community Network, a local group ‘bulletin board’ of sorts, are being started via the internet and are wonderful tools to advertise someone looking for help or looking for work. Craigslist.com is another tool that I’ve found invaluable in helping to sell unwanted ‘stuff’ and find someone else’s unwanted ‘stuff.’ One person’s trash is another person’s treasure!

One of the few complaints I do have about The Recession is the cost of healthy and organic food. When money is tight, it can be so hard to eat well. The tasty organic plums that are grown locally are now $3.50/lb. The organic milk is sometimes double the price of non-organic milk. When I have less than $40 to feed myself for the week it’s hard justify the cost. And, in the back of my mind I know that I could fill my belly at McDonalds for about $5 (I wouldn’t, but I know I could). Luckily for me I don’t have the bills that most people do (such as rent, car payments and insurance), so I can justify the cost of my organic food, but I see how it is such a problem for so many.

Another issue that is on the tip of everyone’s tongues seems to be healthcare. Fortunately, I was injured in the Army (during Basic Combat Training, so I only served a total of 7 months) and now have free healthcare thru the VA. This issue doesn’t affect me, but it does affect my family, many of whom are self-employed. *Disclaimer* This is something I really don’t have a clue about. When I was in Ireland recently, I was discussing medical coverage with some friends. Every one of them was on ‘the dole’ (our welfare) but everyone had a medical card and free or almost free health care. “Ireland takes care of its people so the people will take care of Ireland,” one person told me. So, why is it so much harder for America? When so many countries have such a system in place, why is coming up with one for the USA so controversial? I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m sure there is any number of excuses out there, but like they told us in grade school, No Excuses – No Exceptions!

That is The Recession as seen through the eyes of a self-proclaimed Gypsy. It is not a complete picture in many ways, but broad enough I think. It gives me hope. I believe everything happens for a reason, and as far as I can tell, The Recession may just save our existence on this planet. So I encourage you all to Cut Back, Live Simply, Buy Locally, and Think Green. And when a Wanderer crosses your path, extend a hand – you may just get more than you give!

Light Up The Delaware River: Wrap-Up

(Addendum to “Gas Drilling Reps  Grilled in Sullivan County.”   Feeling out of the loop?  Didn’t know about  the meeting in Rock Hill?  Don’t feel bad. Supervisors James Scheutzow and Linda Babicz were there and they  echoed a pervasive complaint from other attendees about how  little advertising preceded the meeting, “We have flooding problems. We have revenue questions.  We need to know what’s going on.”)


On September 6, 2009, the afternoon of The Light Up The Delaware River Party, a few of us were  watching the Big Eddy Regatta from the Narrowsburg Bridge.  We had Martin Springetti’s “Don’t Frak/Drain Our River” posters and were taking a break from showing them off to passing cars.

“Has anyone heard from  Hancock?”   Nope.

“Philadelphia?”  I shook my head.   “No cell service.”

I scooted into the Cafe bathroom to hold my head;  nobody else needed to know  I was  flipping out. What had I done?  What was I thinking?  How could I hang us all so far out on a limb and not even know whether people were actually gathering in our other river towns?  “This is why my children warn strangers about me,”  I thought.

Before our Granny-something road trip, Leni and I were brand new friends.  We’d known of each other for years, but before we climbed into the car and headed for Philadelphia, we’d  spent very little time in one another’s company.  How deluded were we  to spend three days in a car  —  on a mission  akin to searching for Shangrila — trying to speak with people who  knew little or nothing about hydraulic fracturing  — to invite  them to a 330-mile River Basin Party?

The bathroom walls were closing in.  I couldn’t breathe.

It was very like the night before we  left for Philadelphia.   I’d  sent a desperate plea  from Breathing: we needed a  Light Up The Delaware River Party  website or else the  people we met along the road wouldn’t  take us seriously.  Panic had started to set  in.

The next morning, as we headed out the door,  Tanyette Colon emailed to say she’d just sent the new  Light Up The Delaware River site live.  I was speechless.  Our few conversations had  been via email and yet,  she’d  worked into the wee hours  for the sake of an idea.

Leni and I had a silent agreement not to  think or talk much about the things that could go wrong.  We didn’t worry about disappearing like Amelia Earhart.  We didn’t think about people slamming doors in our faces.  We were leaping into a great well of faith:   people would understand  the threat  of hydraulic fracturing and our urgency  if we could just look them in the eye.

For the sake of an idea,  Mark Barbash invited us  — two complete strangers — into his home and drove us all over Philadelphia.   Nancy Janyszeski opened her study (a thoroughly impressive  place, btw) and showed us that The Party was already displayed prominently at Nockamixon.us. When Leni & I returned from a fracking pond site,  Nancy  and her husband gave us towels,  sent us off to use their bathroom and invited us to spend the night.

When there were no motel rooms from Matamoras, PA to BethelWoods because it was the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock,  three bikers invited us to share their room when they learned what we were doing.  (Although we didn’t take them up on their generosity, it warmed our hearts and thirty  years earlier neither of us would have hesitated.)

It was like that the entire 330 miles:  people read the invitation,  snatched the idea and began hatching plans for Parties in their towns.  When we got home,  our inboxes were  filled with plans  from Nockamixon to Damascus.

The next  three days were spent hunched over the computer searching for national, state and local environmental groups and harvesting email addresses.  By the end, over 200 groups and many more individuals knew The Delaware River Basin was on the move.

Fred Pecora — who’s spent the last two years writing letters, doing interviews and researching, researching, researching  —  heard Leni on WJFF and called  WBAI so the Party and its message  could start percolating  in New York City.

Emails arrived  from the Wyoming front lines.  They were watching and hoping.  Some of my high school buddies  near fracking sites in Ohio taped the WBAI interview  and cheered us on.

In the Upper Basin,  the  media was told to meet us  in Narrowsburg.  It wasn’t until the afternoon  of  the Party that I  realized nobody had organized a  Light Up  event  in Narrowsburg.  At 6:45 pm,  fifteen minutes before we were to begin pouring water into the River,  Bernie  Handler* wondered if we had any.  OMG!  Only a very few people  would be able to negotiate the steep bank from the Gazebo to the River.  All I could think as I grabbed containers and headed down over the rocks was,  “Please don’t let me fall in!”

Moments later, none of it  mattered.  Nearly 300 people had arrived.   Janet Burgan’s  rich,  sure anthems blended with  the dusk and as we munched Dan Brinkerhof’s old-fashioned popcorn,  Skip Mendler juggled and made us laugh.

Below us, the River darkened  and at 7:00, we poured our borrowed water back into it.  At 7:30, as a few small  boats lit up, candles  were set out along the Bridge.   The light  spread in an oval to the crowd around the Gazebo  and to the boatmen beyond.   (Later that evening, as  photos and stories began to arrive via email, we learned it had spread from Starlight, PA to Hancock,  Fremont, Long Eddy, Equinunk,  Callicoon,  Damascus-Cochecton, Milanville, Narrowsburg, Pond Eddy, Milford-Shohola,   Washington’s Crossing, Bridgetown,  Dunfield Creek and Philadelphia.

In the sky above us, Dan Desmond piloted his plane with Ted Waddell in the passenger seat snapping photo after photo —  recording a  single moment in the 400 million-year history of the River.

Along with the pictures, have come words, some of which I’ve included here:

From Nyssa Calkin –  Light Up’s Roving Photographer: “I came across some private and semi-private parties in the Equinunk and Long Eddy areas.    At one location… The entire group broke out into spur of the moment River songs.  Very moving.  Most of the images I took were of the bustling river life throughout the day.”

From Washington’s Crossing: “Wanted you to know we were there with our ‘pure water’  and lights on the NJ side…. My dog likes to clean branches out of the water, or maybe he thinks he is saving them from drowning.  Anyway, he did it while we had our candles lit.  He always tosses his head, though, so we got splattered with mud.  Pretty funny.”

From the Narrowsburg Regatta: “We read poetry, held a regatta, carried signs, barbecued, sang songs, saw puppets, poured water, lit candles, ate popcorn, watched movies…!”

From Hancock: Just wanted to let you know our party was quite successful — except we never saw the plane!  (Editor’s Note:  This was entirely my fault and something that needs much better planning for the 2nd Annual Light Up The Delaware River Party!)

We had between 50 and 60 people…and we did connect with the campers who had posted the other Hancock event.  They joined us,  and at the appropriate hour floated their beautiful, candle-carrying minature rafts from our candle-lit beach.

Thank you so much for all your efforts in creating this! The river was incredibly serene and gorgeous at dusk as we poured our cups of water and lit our candles. Laurie  of the CDOG (Chenango-Delaware-Otsego Gas) group spoke eloquently about the river and our mission to preserve water and land.  Lisa, an organic farmer, activist and poet, read two of her own poems inspired by the gas drilling threat.

We were thrilled that quite a few townspeople who had seen notices about the party joined those of us who are already committed.  We enjoyed live music…and recorded music…and lots of conversation and information sharing (even dancing!!).  It was a fun, inspiring occasion, and I think we all left feeling more connected to the river, one another, and our intentions to preserve the beauty and health of our environment.   How did the other parties go?

From Matamoras: I was at a private party earlier on Sunday just up the River in Matamoras and I will try to get some photos from that.

It would certainly be great to make this an annual event on Sunday of Labor Day Weekend sort of a Delaware River Appreciation Day (DRAD) something I believe would receive much support up and down the River. A little appreciation for all the River provides, including a source of clean drinking water and the many recreational opportunities from its source to the bay.

Great job by everyone…the River Thanks You All!


As I stared from the Bridge into  the heart of it all —   inexpressible joy mixed with sorrow.

Only a part of my community had come  to the River.  The farmers  I’d worked beside  were absent.  They’d sold their cows and land  or been foreclosed years before — but there are memories that bind people forever:  pulling a calf from a straining cow in a warm barn as a spring snowstorm howls outside;  the sound of a tractor rolling backward down a  hill and pinning a man beneath it;  the calluses at the base of our fingers from tossing bales and hauling shingles and sheetrock.

Many of  the people I’ve worked beside didn’t  come  to The Party  because they’ve already moved  from the  land their families tilled for a century or more.  Some were absent because,  after long weeks of painful weighing, they’d signed leases.  They weren’t sure if the Party was for them, too.  Some weren’t with us because they’re angry at us — believing that our defense of the River signifies  a willful disregard for what  gentrification, the economic downturn,  factory farms and the loss of industrial jobs have done to them and their children.  Some believe that our stance  as defenders of the  water and land is a denigration of  their long years of stewardship.

Every ten years or so during the thirty that  I’ve lived in Sullivan County, NY,  a wave of “newcomers” has arrived  in the Basin  because something  feels  “wrong”  or  “out-of balance”  in their lives.  Some  of them weather the storms and stay.  Many maintain two residences.  Too often  —  to the jaded eye of those who’ve  seen it all before and who struggle to pay one mortgage or rent — those second homes look like  get-away options in case things go sour.  Too often to recount,  many newcomers discover how  hard it is to live here…to raise a family here…to pay the mortgage here…. and after   they’ve  used their greater resources to rent Main Street shops and  charge prices many “locals”  can’t afford,  they  move away.  Those  whose families have worked and lived in the Basin for  centuries and who  rarely have a wealth of choices,  watch them go,  their communities upended in the wake.

But what of  those,  like myself,  who’ve  stayed?  They were all around me on the Bridge or chatting  in front of Dan Brinkerhoff’s Amazing Mobile Movie Theater Truck  waiting for the film to begin.  I saw farmers who work dawn to midnight creating community sustainable agriculture and  librarians who supervise after-school programs.  There were teachers who share their skills in our literacy centers and community programs, carpenters, artists, weavers & spinners, labor organizers,  shopkeepers, nurses, writers, construction workers, house cleaners  —  all of them working with every fiber to stay;  to lend their vigor to an old world and its traditions.

Just as some old-timers  fear that  gentrification will leave them behind,   their neighbors who  gathered along the River from Hancock to Philadelphia also fear abandonment. They watch the River through exhausted, angry and frightened eyes and  see   the specter of  gas companies descending like  locusts, despoiling our Basin and leaving us to clean up or give up.

No matter on which side of the issue we stand,  it’s not enough to say, “You can’t talk to those people.  They’re selfish/greedy/arrogant/ignorant/dilettantes.”  How does it benefit the River for us to squabble over who the “true stewards of the land”  are  —  especially when livelihoods, college educations, farms & family  businesses, land  and water are all at stake?   To paraphrase the President,   diplomacy isn’t for people who agree with each other;  it’s for those  locked in conflict.

Those of us who’ve been here long enough, remember the hate-filled  words that led to acts of violence  during the  NPS war and the twenty year embroglio over  school consolidation.  Perhaps the vile odors  of a house and barn burning  have left us unreasonably anxious  when  the same ugly words and frustrated rage surface  today.

Or perhaps, we’re struggling to learn from our past.

We hear  that a movie’s being planned  about the gas strife here in the Basin.  Let’s give them a truly different story to tell — one in which we find ways to preserve the things we love in common.

Incredible  amounts of good have come from the Party already.  A friend who just signed a lease has asked that we join forces to support the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act and a severance tax on the gas industry. As I mentioned yesterday,  a column will always be available to her here at Breathing. (More on that after September 20th.)  River communities throughout the Basin have renewed our joint commitment to preserve and protect and we are in daily contact.  Several people who saw Josh Fox’  film, “Water Under Attack,”  were in Rock Hill two days later demanding answers of  gas drilling representatives  (IOGA-NY).  Efforts are being renewed to create a national database of groups engaged in struggles akin to our own.  Ideas for internet videos  and guerilla theater are free-floating everywhere.  Meetings are being held by phone and  over the internet to discuss a possible Basin summit.  And integral to everything is this question,  “How do we save the Basin for all of us?”


*I’ve already nominated Bernie Handler for The Prince Valiant-Iron Man  Award.  Not only did he save me from looking  like a total ditz, he also rescued Kalika and her  kayak during the afternoon  Regatta.)


Note to readers:  Breathing Is Political, CottageWorks and Light Up The Delaware River Party! locked me in a family meeting last night.  They kept their promise to let me plan The Light Up  Party without nagging,  but now they need me to find a job.  So for their sake, and mine,  if you know  of a community-vested enterprise that’s  looking for a nurse-paralegal with a writing demon and native  organizing skills enhanced by sheer dumb luck, please let me know.

Best hopes for us all,


Gas Drilling Reps Grilled In Sullivan County

According to a press release from the Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY (IOGA-NY),  “The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York together    with the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development (Partnership)**  will host a public information session to address the environmental, scientific and economic aspects of natural gas exploration.”

At their blog, Marcellus Facts,  the IOGA-NY’s  agenda is described in significantly different terms,    “You can review media coverage, our Homegrown Energy booklet and other materials that highlight the many benefits of natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale.”  (Italics added for emphasis.)

Fifteen minutes before the 6:30 start time, Bernie’s parking lot was full and cars lined the side of the road.

The meeting opened  with  remarks  by IOGA-NY’s  reps who boasted degrees in hydrology, geology and jurisprudence.  They were, with the exception of the attorney,  folksily garbed in blue jeans and low-key short sleeves.

The audience settled in to view,  “Homegrown Energy,”  IOGA-NY’s  self-described  “educational”  film  which provided a  cartoon-style description of  the drilling and hydraulic fracturing  process.

One audience member asked why IOGA-NY  had shown us a cartoon rather than a video of actual fracking operations.  “We’re not children,”  she added.  A while later, the sentiment was amplified by someone else,  “Why cartoons?  Why don’t you show us how the drilling and fracking look in Fort Worth and Dimock?”

The cartoon film  illustrated each stage of the drilling/hydraulic fracturing  process.  At one point,  it assured us that the cement casings (barriers) that are constructed to retain the toxic  fracturing fluids and gas are  safe and reliable.  (However,  after a house exploded in East Lake, Ohio, “The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later issued a 153-page report [2] (PDF) that blamed a nearby gas well’s faulty concrete casing and hydraulic fracturing [3].)

The cartoon attempted to allay fears concerning the toxic  ingredients found in hydraulic fracturing fluid (“mud” — which is injected through the well bore under enormous pressures  in order to fracture the shale bed and extract the natural gas contained there.)  According to the educational film,   the “mud” contains a soup of  additives necessary to the process which are commonly  found in antibacterial hand washes and dish liquid.

(For information concerning some of  the human health concerns surrounding  hydraulic fracturing, please click here for an article at the National Institutes of Health.)

The film did not address the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of hydraulic fracturing toxins which includes diesel fuel  “…sometimes a component of gelled fluids. Diesel fuel contains constituents of potential concern regulated under SDWA – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (i.e., BTEX compounds). The use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat to USDWs because BTEX compounds in diesel fuel exceed the MCL at the point-of-injection (i.e. the subsurface location where fracturing fluids are initially injected).”

Industry reps at the Rock Hill meeting  denied that  “mud”  used at their wells will  contain  toluene even though “Benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes are naturally present in many hydrocarbon deposits, and may be present in drilling and fracking chemicals.”) Indeed, the  EPA’s 2004 report also states that not all of its listed toxins are present at all fracking operations.   This inconsistency and the  fact that   “The 2005 Energy Policy Act excluded hydraulic fracturing from [Safe Drinking Water Act]  jurisdiction,”  are why   Representatives Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey among a  few others have introduced  The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which amends the  Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to DeGette,  “The legislation would repeal the exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes.  Currently, the oil and gas industry is the only industry granted an exemption from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

In response, one of  IOGA-NY’s representatives quipped,  “Since we were never covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act,  you can’t  say we were exempted.”

Mr. Noel Van Swol, a property owner in Sullivan County who’s apparently affiliated with the  Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association was in attendance at the Rock Hill meeting.   When asked by Breathing if he would support the “FRAC Act,” and a severance tax on the gas industry  he was unequivocal,  “There’s no need for it.  The Frac Act is just  another instance of Maurice Hinchey trying to get publicity for an unnecessary law and we don’t want a severance tax.  We want the industry here,  not drilling someplace else.”

(Please see this list of organizations which asked Governor Rendell to  support a severance tax.   Considering the massive natural gas potential of the Marcellus Shale,  few people believe the gas industry will  abandon it  to avoid paying a modest tax.)

In fact, one Wayne County  resident who’s recently signed a lease,  contacted  Breathing to suggest we join  forces to  support the Frac Act and a severance tax on the gas industry.  In an email, she wrote, “I hope that both sides can drop the vitriolic language and concentrate on working together to get clear local, state, and federal oversight of the drilling process including a severance tax so that even those people who do not dirctly benefit from the drilling will see some kind of community financial remuneration for the burdens we will see put upon our communities by the drilling. I also feel very strongly that the 2005 exemption from the Clean Water Act that fracking enjoys must be removed by Congress.”***

Most of the audience’s questions had to do with reports of noise and water pollution resulting from the drilling and  fracturing processes.  Maria Grimaldi described her trip through a gas drilling  area in New Mexico.  “It was awful.  I couldn’t get out of there  fast enough.”

Industry representatives reminded the audience that  any construction site  is noisy.   A  drilling proponent said,  “Look around you, folks.   We need the jobs and the money these drilling companies are going to bring.   I can put up with a month of ‘boom, boom boom.'”

Some residents living near Texas’  Barnett Shale disagree.

When the IOGA-NY geologist was questioned about reports that hydraulic fracturing had stimulated earthquakes,  the geologist claimed to have never heard such allegations.  Further, he denied knowing anything  about New York State’s history of earthquakes.

Another concern audience members expressed had to do with storage of the fracking fluid once it’s been extracted from the ground.  Citing Sullivan County’s history of flash floods, one  person asked how the  toxic frak fluid would be stored and who would oversee its disposal.  Industry representatives said that they would review individual situations but  tended to think  “we’ll store it in tanks because of the flooding.”

At one point in the evening.  IOGA-NY  was  asked specifically about incidents of toxic contamination in  Pavilion, Wyoming,  Dimock, Pennsylvania,  dead cows in Louisiana and tap water catching fire.  At first,  the Industry reps   dismissed those worries but backed off slightly when a recent EPA report and ProPublica story  about Wyoming were mentioned.  In part, the article states, “‘It [contamination] starts to finger-point stronger and stronger to the source being somehow related to the gas development, including, but not necessarily conclusively, hydraulic fracturing itself,'” said Nathan Wiser, an EPA scientist and hydraulic fracturing expert who oversees enforcement for the underground injection control program under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Rocky Mountain region.”)

When one of the Industry representatives asked where people were getting  their information, several audience members shouted out,  “Water Under Attack!  Josh Fox’ movie.”  There were also suggestions that members of  The Partnership and IOGA-NY  watch the film.  In response, one of the Industry presenters said,  “I’ll talk to [Mr. Fox].  I’ll talk to anyone.  Give him my card.” ****

In another back-and-forth having to do with water contamination,  IOGA-NY  reps told the audience that New York State’s  Department of Environmental Conservation is one of the strictest and best environmental enforcement agencies in the fifty states.  In consequence, he added,  New York residents won’t experience the same kinds of  problems encountered by residents elsewhere.  When Breathing asked if  strict oversight would be required in New York to keep  us safe from the Industry,  the response was, “Gas drilling is  an industry.  Industrial accidents happen.”   In a follow up question,    Breathing asked how many DEC oversight and enforcement personnel would be required to keep  our environment safe from the Industry.

I got the same answer  from  IOGA-NY as was offered by  the  Delaware River Basin Commission on July 15, 2009.   No answer.


**When the  meeting adjourned,  Breathing  Is Political and a friend of Light Up The Delaware River  had an opportunity to discuss the evening’s event  and hydraulic fracturing with Mr. Tim  McCausland, President and CEO of the Partnership.  I first asked Mr. McCausland   to clarify  his organization’s relationship with IOGA-NY.   “I wouldn’t call it a ‘relationship,'” he answered.  “They approached us.  Offering sessions like this is part of what The Partnership does.”

This morning,  Mr. McCausland sent  me The Partnership’s  recently-released position statement on gas drilling which reads, “The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development believes strongly, that if government and industry can collaborate to properly protect and preserve our environment, the development of a natural gas industry in Sullivan County could create substantial economic and fiscal benefits for our landowners and communities  — and while the direct economic impacts are vital, the industry must strive to produce:  (a)  a business model that is locally sustainable, and (b) policies that result in a meaningful shift toward energy independence.”

(Breathing encourages you to share  your views of the Partnership’s position in our comment section.  I will happily forward  them to Mr. McCausland.)

***Breathing endorses  this  suggestion wholeheartedly by offering  the letter-writer a column here.   While the rest of us stumble  in the dark looking for a way to bridge the divide between “pro-drillers”  (a misnomer)  and  “anti-frackers,”  (please!)   she offers  a way to cooperate  for the good of us all.

****A request with which Breathing complied immediately.

Planning A Party On A Shoestring

Dear Drilling Companies That Are Eying Sullivan County (Part 2):

I promised yesterday to provide you with a short primer on “How to organize a 330-mile party in under five weeks for less than $1,000” so, gather round.

(Oh good! Mobil-Exxon’s with us today. Welcome, welcome!)

(I was going to write a Light Up The Delaware River Party wrap-up today but seeing as how photos and stories are still coming in,   I’ll wait  a  few days.)

Dear Drilling Companies That Are Eying Sullivan County (Part 2):

I promised yesterday to  provide you with  a short primer on  “How to organize a 330-mile party in under  five weeks for less than $1,000”  so,   gather round.

(Oh good!  Mobil-Exxon’s with us today. Welcome, welcome!)

1.   The first thing you need when trying to organize a community is a good idea.  It should be easily explained and understood and it should include a component of fun.  (Your idea for  filling the shale bed with toxic chemicals and consequently polluting the land and water is easily enough understood and explained but honestly,  the “fun” piece is  missing.)  For instance, my idea for Lighting Up The Delaware River Party came from Gandhi leading  the Indian people to the sea to make salt.  He wanted them to reclaim their resources and the strength  that comes from working shoulder-to-shoulder in an act of solidarity. So we started with that idea and added puppets, songs, movies, dance, poetry, a canoe regatta, campfires,  kayaking.  It was a blast!

What’s the genesis of your idea?  This is important!  When I asked one of your spokespeople outside the July 15, 2009 DRBC hearing if he’d be willing to put your toxic chemicals in an impermeable container and then place them  in his child’s  glass of  water,  he said, “No!”  without hesitation.  It’s just not a good way  to garner trust and support.  And more important,  it’s just not fun.

2.  You have to meet people where they live. Seriously,  the way you’re going about selling fracking fluids and contaminated wells needs some honing.  It’s no good sitting in a meeting room hoping we’ll  find you.  (Many of us are hanging on by a thread and what with working 2 or 3 jobs,  we don’t have a lot of  time or energy  for your little soirees.)

And for sure,  it doesn’t help your case  to simply deny there’s a problem.  Granted, most of us who’ve been  living in  The Basin or rural New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and Ohio  for decades or centuries don’t have a lot of financial  resources but we’re not stupid  for Pete’s sake.  We can read a local newspaper!  We know about Dimock, PA,  Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio…  It doesn’t help your cause if people  think you’re hiding  a bunch of garbage in a closet.  So in your interest, I  urge you to  come clean.

3.  The best way to promote an idea in a tight-knit community is to  be vested in that community and to have a ton of good-hearted friends:  join the local fire company;  become a well-known agitator whom people trust whether or not they  like you and help bolster your local resources —  rivers, land, schools,  local production & distribution of food and goods.   The list is long and varied so step right up.  Here are a couple  PR beauts you could jump on in a split instant:

  • Vest yourself in the community.  I know it’s not a tact you’re familiar with so it bears some explanation.  For instance,  you can volunteer to help farmers get the hay in during the season.  You can deliver cups of coffee to our  volunteer  firemen who work long hours all day and then roll out of bed when the fire alarm peals.  If that sounds like overkill, at least  provide jobs for local people.  They’ll remember you fondly, I promise!
  • Support the  Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 so all the nervous Nellies out there feel appeased and safe.  If history’s a clue, you probably won’t have to  fix any of the problems you create but at least you’ll look responsible.
  • Stop funding Congress.  It makes you look bad and detracts from the wonderful product you’re promoting.  (People end up thinking you couldn’t sell gas drilling to a tribe of orangutans without having most of them in your pocket.  You can see how unwholesome it makes you appear.)
  • Pay the damned severance tax you convinced Pennsylvania Governer Rendell to pull.  Are you nuts?  (I’m asking as one organizer to another so don’t get in a huff.)  The tax will cost you barely anything in the billion dollar scheme of things and it’s great publicity.  Pay the tax and look like a regular guy.  You can’t buy that kind of good press.
  • The next time you convince a major  American university like Penn State to write a bogus “economic impact study” for you, at least fess up that you funded it.  (Again, we’re not stupid and it makes you and your university stooges look sleazy.  Sorry.  I can’t help you if we can’t be forthright with each other.)
  • If you aren’t vested in the community and you can’t distinguish Sullivan County from Wayne or Orange,  or if  we look like  numbers on a geologic plat map to you, here’s a great idea:   recruit a local organization to front for you.    (I’ve gotta’ tell ya’,  this is a really important piece and the whole Sullivan County Partnership  thing?  You blew it.  True or not,  most of us don’t think they could find the teats on a hog.   (Let’s try this:   give  me a call  and we’ll see if we can’t find you someone less…forgettable.)

Another big help is to know your local media and be trusted by them.  I’ve got to hand it to you on that point.  The work you’ve done with the media in Wayne County, PA  has been inspirational!  Almost as impressive as the national silence on some of the  “ooops”  factors you’ve precipitated in Dimock, Fort Worth and elsewhere.

And that’s where I think we can collaborate.   I’ll introduce you to the crackerjack local media who’ve remained beyond your reach and you can get me 10 minutes  on Lou Dobbs.


Meet The Drilling Companies: 9-8-09. Bernie’s in Rock Hill, NY

I’d welcome an opportunity to discuss with you more targeted ways by which you can endorse Breathing Is Political. Perhaps over a glass of Dimock, Pennsylvania’s finest fire water? Or, maybe at your industry-sponsored promotional event tomorrow night at Bernie’s in Rock Hill, NY. (See the CottageWorks Community Calendar for details.)

(The following was written today with old fashioned  pen an paper.  No  electric on the mountain.  Due to the 9-8-09  drilling promotion being held in Rock Hill at Bernie’s,   I wanted to post this announcement  and correspondence before getting all the Party photos uploaded. Sorry!)

Dear  Gas Drilling Companies  That Are Eying Sullivan County, New York:

First,  I want to tell you how much I appreciate your frequent visits to this site, Breathing Is Political.   Some of  the “hits”  are probably  “ping backs.”  (I don’t really understand  all  that blog stuff either, so don’t be embarrassed.)  I do notice, however  that some of your visits have lasted long enough for a good read.  Great!

I’d  welcome an opportunity to  discuss with you  more targeted ways by which  you can endorse Breathing Is Political.  Perhaps over a glass of   Dimock, Pennsylvania’s finest  fire water?  Or, maybe  at  your industry-sponsored promotional event tomorrow night at Bernie’s  in Rock Hill, NY. (See the CottageWorks Community Calendar for details.)

I also want to express my personal gratitude  for the informational sessions you’ve planned in New York.  I genuinely appreciate having this opportunity to hear about all the benefits in store for us in Sullivan County. I’ve included links  for your convenience here because you might not remember where Sullivan County and the Delaware River Basin are.  I know how busy you’ve been in Dimock, PennsylvaniaFort Worth, TexasPavilion, Wyoming and so many other places where drilling is creating whole new landscapes and jazzing up the water with an array of additives.

Just one quick update about our Light Up The Delaware River Party last night because I know you’re interested.  Evidently,  a couple of  Pennsylvania river officers were forced to eject three  middle-aged  people from a PA access site.  The  three  revelers were preparing to pour cups of clean water into the River or something bizarre like that.  Sigh.  What can ya’ do, right?  (Turned out there were nearer 20  participants for the candle lighting on the Bridge but  more about that tomorrow.) I did hear reports that  one of the  agents looked “a bit sheepish” about the role he was playing and happily, neither officer  felt the need to unholster  his sidearm.  Thank goodness, right?

Please excuse the disjointedness of this.  I’m just so excited to finally have a way to talk with you!  (By the way,  could you please call Josh Fox at Water Under Attack?  I know he’d love to hear from you.)

Sorry for that diversion.  My Granny-something brain is easily distracted.

Since your interest in my modest little rag sheet has  been rewarding for you, I’m  posting this letter  to other blogs.  I’m sure they’ll do everything they can to encourage lots of interest in,  and attendance at,  the upcoming promotional events you’ve scheduled for New York State.

And there are  supportive documents at Governor Paterson’s site, aren’t  there?  I know he’s getting  pretty excited about all the gas dollars waiting to be plucked from the Marcellus Shale in New York. But don’t  worry yourself over the details.  We’ll have you covered.

FYI:   Coming tomorrow,  “How To  Light Up The Delaware River in under five weeks for less than $1,000.  (Hint:  it starts with  an inspired idea.  Mine came from Gandhi.  And yours…?  What with your millions?  billions?  for national TV ad campaigns, you’ll find our grassroots efforts  interesting in a folksy, anthropologic kind of way.  Enjoy!

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Gas Drilling in Sullivan County, NY?

According to this announcement  received via email,   “The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York invites you to attend the following public information sessions beginning Thursday, September 3, 2009 to present facts and updates regarding natural gas exploration in your region. Other dates and locations: 9-8-09: Bernie’s Restaurant, Rock Hill.   9-10-09. SUNY Oneonta, Hunt Union.   10-1-09. Morrisville State College Theatre. Morrisville, NY.”  (Please visit the CottageWorks Community Calendar for event details.)

Interestingly, these meetings are being billed as informational sessions.  At an alternative website for The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York,  the Association makes clear their intent in organizing these events,  “Thank you for visiting MarcellusFacts.com – your source for information about the benefits of natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale…”

These events are being organized in New York State on the heels of Governor Paterson’s announcement that exploitation of the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale in New York State is part of his energy plan.  Yesterday’s Times Herald Record published a story entitled, “Gas Companies Prepare to Drill in Sullivan.”

Steve Israel’s article tells us who The Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York  is, what they have planned for New York State, and more particularly, Sullivan County.  “After delaying drilling of the gas-rich shale beneath Sullivan for much of the year, the industry is ready to resume leasing land once the state’s new environmental standards are released, perhaps as early as next month. Drilling of the Marcellus shale could start in the spring.”

“We’ll do it and we’re looking to do it, once the regulatory hurdles are cleared. Then the permits will flow,” said Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.”

Recently, 2,000 pro-drilling advocates rallied in New York with the mantra of “Drill, baby, drill.”

I will be attending the  9-8-09 “session” at Bernie’s Restaurant in Rock Hill, NY  and hope to see you there, too.

Blogger Gagged

On May 29, 2009,  the 79th District Court of Jim Wells County, Texas  released its decision in Coronado Energy  E&P Company, L.L.C. v. McGill Ranch, Ltd.,  Stephen Burns and Elizabeth Burns; Cause No. 08-06-47106-CV. (This link will take you to the blog which has several links to documents.)

According to the Court’s papers,  Plaintiff   Coronado alleged that Ms. Burns,  based on her previous actions, is likely to publish “proprietary”  information  about Coronado’s practices if she isn’t stopped.  Coronado further  alleged that Ms. Burns has published confidential  documents provided to her during the legal discovery process.

On December 3, 2008, Plaintiff Coronado Energy requested, and  the Court signed, a Protective Order which was entered  against Ms. Elizabeth Burns who publishes the blog,  “A Satirical View from the McGill Bros Lease in South Texas.”  The Court evidently agreed with Coronado’s  wish  “to protect Coronado’s  proprietary and trade secret related or type information that will or may be revealed through the course of depositions and other discovery in this matter.  Such order will allow all  parties in this case to designate certain discovery  products as confidential and thereby limit disclosure and use of such information outside of this lawsuit…”

Under normal circumstances, such confidential designations are frequently made in civil suits.  However, under normal circumstances,  the party wishing to designate documents as “confidential”  does not do so in the aggregate and provides specific reasons for each instance.  The concern in this case is that the burden  of proof has been  shifted to Ms. Burns,  who, if she wants to publish Coronado documents, must show, apparently,  that such documents should not be designated “confidential.”  By placing the burden on Ms. Burns,  the Court has effectively ruled that  she must return to the  Court for permission whenever she wishes to publish  Coronado documents

During our 330-mile River Trip to light up the Delaware River,  Leni and I discovered that very few people in our River Basin had ever heard of  hydraulic fracturing and even fewer knew what it was.

The burden of educating the public about what the gas companies plan for our communities has fallen, in large part, to bloggers.  Although there are notable exceptions  (The River Reporter and  The Intelligencer, to name just two)  the understanding most people have regarding the issues  comes from watching a virtual deluge of pro-drilling ads on their TVs.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in New York Times v. United States (1971)  “The United States, which brought these actions to enjoin publication in the New York Times and in the Washington Post of certain classified material, has not met the “‘heavy burden of showing justification for the enforcement of such a [prior] restraint.'”

(“Prior restraint” refers to  restrictions placed on  a citizen’s rights in case the citizen  might overstep legal bounds at some future time.  The Supreme Court was reminding us that  if the State seeks to restrict a person’s  speech,  the burden on the State is enormous.  In so saying,  The Court was reminding us that  our nation is only as strong as our sources of information,  our ability to access that information and the  open fora in which we discuss that information.)

In one of the most brilliant and moving opinions ever published by the Court, Justice Black wrote, in part, with Justice Douglas concurring:

“In my view it is unfortunate that some of my Brethren are apparently willing to hold that the publication of news may sometimes be enjoined. Such a holding would make a shambles of the First Amendment.

‘Our Government was launched in 1789 with the adoption of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment, followed in 1791. Now, for the first time in the 182 years since the founding of the Republic, the federal courts are asked to hold that the First Amendment does not mean what it says, but rather means that the Government can halt the publication of current news of vital importance to the people of this country.

“James Madison offered a series of amendments to satisfy citizens that these great liberties would remain safe and beyond the power of government to abridge. Madison proposed what later became the First Amendment in three parts, two of which are set out below, and one of which proclaimed: “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” 2 (Emphasis added.)

“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.”

I am not an attorney and  would not presume to voice an opinion on either Coronado’s allegations or Ms. Burns’ response, but I  hope that all of us — bloggers, the populace,  mainstream media and Courts of Law —  will read and re-read Justice Black’s statement.  Although it  concerns restraints placed on citizens by  The State,  in our current oligarchy where  The State and Corporations are enmeshed,  Justice Black’s words ring with  deep import.