Why is Senator Joseph Scarnati So Mad at Me?

On February 22 in Brockway, Pennsylvania, at a public hearing that was being held about permitting a new Marcellus Shale gas well to be drilled by Flatirons Development in the Brockway watershed, I asked a question that elicited from my State Senator Joseph Scarnati a surprisingly vehement personal attack against me.  I have to say it was pretty unsettling to be pilloried in public by the most powerful member of the Republican majority in Harrisburg. 

Essentially he called me “crude.”  In answer to my question about why he was not holding hearings on the public health impacts of shale gas drilling, he characterized emails which I have sent to him over the past year about shale gas issues as “crude.”  His words were intended to create the impression that such emails could only come from a “crude” person, and he deftly framed me as a person who was badgering him and thus not worthy of his time to respond. 

I suppose I have written him quite often, precisely hoping that he as my Senator would respond to the substantive comments about the present-day dangers of unconventional drilling for shale gas, but he has carefully avoided all such direct accountability to me, one of his constituents.  He has only rarely responded to my letters, and then in the same dismissive way as he used in Brockway at the hearing.

 

My question about people being sickened by drilling was out of order as far as Senator Scarnati was concerned.  He was conducting a public hearing to allow the “concerns” of Brockway residents to be heard, not to take a question from me – his email tormentor – about some sort of hearing he was supposed to have at another time. 

However, by that point in the evening things were getting a little tense because everyone knew that DEP was going to approve the permit no matter what Brockway residents thought about it.  The hearing seemed to be so much window dressing of a decision already made.  That feeling was in the air and in the comments made by some of the Brockway residents.  The meeting was getting out of control as it sunk in on Brockway residents that the property rights of Flatirons Development were going to trump their human right to have clean water and not see their watershed put at risk of permanent contamination.

So it was in that context that I spoke up. The Senator was already pretty tense and my question to him gave him a good excuse to release some of that tension.

After the meeting was over and I calmed down from the name-calling abuse, I wrote him yet another email entitled “Are you always such a bully?”:

*****************

Dear Senator Scarnati –

I was quite disappointed in you tonight in Brockway. To call me “crude” or to characterize my emails to you as such was a low blow. You spoke from a position of power and you knew I would not be able to respond, so your pejorative characterization of the letters and appeals I have sent you would stand without challenge.  I thought you better than that. I am used to how the gas industry goes directly to the ad hominem argument when they would rather not deal with the criticism or the question.  But I did not expect that from you.

Tell you what, if you think my previous emails were so “crude,” why don’t you release all of them publicly, unedited, and let people decide for themselves?

I did appreciate that you said that any legislator who knew of people being sickened or hurt by the gas drilling had a responsibility to convene a hearing and get to the facts of that.  If I can find you people in Senate District 25, will you do so? Or is it “crude” to ask you that?

You well know, Senator, that you are much more on the state level than just the Senator from District 25, and to refuse to answer the question as to why you are not having state-level hearings on the current damage being done to people by the drilling is another example of how you evade the moral questions I have been placing before you.

Sincerely,
Stephen Cleghorn

***************

Now four weeks later I have yet to receive a response from him.  Given that, I feel I have no choice but to let others read the email I sent to him on that Ash Wednesday morning before the evening hearing in Brockway.  It is fairly representative of other emails I have sent him.  People can read it and judge for themselves if it is “crude” in nature. I promised him in that the email that it would be held in confidence between us, but with his attack on me at the Brockway hearing he forfeited my promise to keep our communication private.  People have a right to know what upset him so much.

Before that, I must offer one other piece of context.  Both Joseph Scarnati and I are devout Catholics.  He goes to Mass in Brockway. My parish where I attend Mass is about 25 miles south in Sykesville.  But wherever we go we hear the same readings every Sunday, and take part in the same communion.  Because of that, I have at times written him a message based on the readings of that Sunday and on our common ground as brothers in Christ.  The readings often seem relevant, at least to me, to the social injustice of supporting an industry that sickens people and ruins their water while it makes a few private corporations very rich.

So I have spoken to Senator Scarnati quite frankly as a brother in Christ concerned about what he is doing to others, and indeed concerned about his immortal soul.  I suppose that irks him more than I realized.  It was in that context on Ash Wednesday that I sent the following email to him, and a similar one to Speaker Sam Smith.

***********

Dear Joe –

On this Ash Wednesday we Christians hear at church, as a cross of ashes is traced on our foreheads: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I have dust on my mind today, my wife’s dust, which has to do with my invitation to you and to Speaker Smith, of which I will speak in a moment, but first let me speak of the prayer I am sending your way.

With our mortality as common ground between us, and with the assurance to each of you that this message is only between us, I am sending a prayer your way on this holy day of fasting. I will fast throughout the day of each Wednesday of Lent for your sake (and for mine) as we engage in this struggle over the drilling for shale gas that I oppose and you support.  As I have told you before, I believe the harm being done to people by this drilling in not acceptable in the sight of Our Lord.

The prayer is this: “Dear God, soften our hearts so that we can hear each other, but most especially that we may always hear the cries of your suffering poor and act in their interests. Please allow Joe the ability to listen to and to hear the victims of Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Give him ears to hear, eyes to see.  And grant me the serenity and grace to engage him in discernment about what You would have us to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

That said; let me move now to the invitation.  I am putting together a May 10 event on my farm to which I will be inviting you, Speaker Smith, and the owners of the gas rights to this property, as well as gas company representatives.  That invitation will be quite public in nature. Press release and all that, best as I can muster. 

I will be inviting you to come on that day to hear directly from some of the victims of this extreme form of fossil fuel extraction.  After you have heard their stories, I will ask you to respond however you might like to respond.  The ground rule will be simple. If you listen first, you get to speak. Same goes for the gas company people and gas rights owner if they choose to come.

On that day also I will be scattering a portion of the dust that is all I have left of my wife Lucinda, who died of lung cancer this past November.  Her ashes will become part of the soil of this farm and I will declare this land inviolate of gas drilling, at whatever cost I am required to pay to keep it that way.  I will offer a new meaning of “surface rights” to be defended in her name.

Her suffering is present to me, as it will be the fate to which many others will be consigned after we release tons of carcinogenic materials into the ground and waters over one-half of Pennsylvania.  You do not have proof, nor have the gas companies offered proof, that references any sort of scientific consensus that this drilling cannot cause irreparable harm to our aquifers.  That makes what you do both unethical and immoral.  You do not get to take such chances with the lives of other human beings.

On May 10 a portion of Lucinda’s ashes will fall from my hand to grace this land below our feet and those ashes will create an impermeable “surface right of love,” a new kind of barrier that no drilling rig can penetrate.  After that day, there will not be a diamond bit hard enough to pierce the love for this land that sustained Lucinda and me as we built this farm these past seven years.  Then on May 12 I will gather with Lucinda’s family and friends from throughout the sustainable agriculture community of Pennsylvania to carry her ashes to every corner of this farm as a “soil amendment” like no other.

Lucinda requested that this be her final resting place, and so it shall be. We made a beautiful place here.  I hope you will come see it.  I hope you understand, and that you let any of your friends in the gas industry understand, that I will defend (nonviolently) this place with my life against the ravages of shale gas drilling.  And I hope that you can understand that these actions I take are also meant in the final analysis for your well-being.  From afar you seem like a good man to me, and I believe you might think me a good man, too, if ever we meet in person.

Blessings to you, sincerely. I do continue to hope, despite past experience, that I will hear back from you. Joe, if you are in Brockway tonight at the community meeting, let’s at least shake hands and say hello, yes?

Stephen Cleghorn

**************

So there you have it, my “crude” email to Joseph Scarnati.  Honestly as I read through it again and think of his somewhat violent verbal assault on me, I am quite saddened.  Something has happened to harden his heart.  The call to empathy that I have made to him on numerous occasions has fallen not on deaf ears, but on ears keenly tuned, it appears, to recognize the enemy of his ambitions and to destroy that person’s character and credibility if he can. 

That is very sad, but that is the state of our political discourse these days.

So people can judge whether I have any right to address Senator Scarnati as “Joe” or “brother in Christ” and appeal to his better angels to let into his heart some information about the people he is hurting.  It’s the best I could think of asking of him.  The ideological debates and arguments about the economic or energy security or national security benefits of unconventional gas drilling do not interest me.  I am concerned that we speak of the most important matters.  Whatsoever we do unto others, we do unto Our Lord.

I hope that the people of Brockway will not be intimidated by their Senator and will find other ways to stand in the way of the immense new risk to their only watershed that a new well by Flatirons Development poses.  I had to leave the meeting before I could try to shake Joe’s hand and make some sort of peace with him.  But that is a two-way proposition.  In the meantime I will keep him in my Lenten prayers as I told him.  My hand is still open to him, but that does not mean I am going to allow him to go on hurting me or anyone else without challenge.

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About jstephencleghorn

My name is Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn. I am now a resident of Baltimore, MD. I continue to own a 50-acre certified organic farm in Jefferson County, PA that I operated with my late wife Lucinda between 2005 and 2011 when she passed away from cancer. The farm is now under lease to organic farmers and protected by "The Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez Conservation Easement” which protects it for organic agriculture and against the threats of industrial development that would violate the Rights of Nature. The blog’s name is taken from the writings of Saint Augustine who believed “Hope” to be the greatest of spiritual gifts. And, says Saint Augustine, Hope has two lovely daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger so that what must not be may not be; courage so that what should be can be. Anger and Courage. Now in late 2016, after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, these are the spiritual gifts that must come to the fore if we are to have “Hope” for a loving culture and a sustainable world for future generations. When I first created this blog it was focused on the extreme form of fossil fuel extraction known as “fracking” that was threatening much of the state of Pennsylvania and many other parts of the United States. At the root of that struggle was and is a struggle to halt and reverse climate change. Now the struggle has turned to resisting an incoming Trump Administration that is an existential threat to the climate with its plans to ramp up extraction and use of fossil fuels. This blog will be about having the courage to stand up to the massive global corporations that would ruin our planet and its climate, take their profits and leave the mess to future generations of to clean up. We need to rise up, my friends, and be not afraid.
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7 Responses to Why is Senator Joseph Scarnati So Mad at Me?

  1. Steve Beers says:

    Mr. Cleghorn,
    I read your letter and enjoyed it immensly. You have a gift when it comes to writing. I live in Butler County and the drilling is going all around us. My wife and I only have three acres of ground, but we have refused to sign a lease agreement with the gas company. All of the neighbors have signed, but we are the only ones with a well and this troubles me. Our water is good, right now, but time will tell as more wells go in. Keep up the letter writing to Joe and try to break through to him with kindness, but I fear the almighty dollar has more then likely lined his pockets from the gas companies. If he is Republican, then he and Tom Corbett has already opened the doors of destruction to Pennsylvania and we are all doomed.

  2. Yes. he is Republican, the leader of the majority party in the PA Senate, but breaking through to him with kindness has little to do with his party affiliation. I am afraid he has hardened his heart to empathy for the victims of fracking as a defense mechanism not to look closely at the damage he does. That is a very human trait, not a party affiliation, in my view. For now his major paymaster for his campaign treasury is the gas industry, so getting past his desire for power will be difficult. More than likely he justifies what he does as a way to help many families make a living. I am not his eternal judge, thank God-ness for that, nor do I want to be. But I do want him to know that the words we hear in church matter a great deal to how we conduct our business or political lives. As for your water, make sure you have a good third-party test (from an approved PA water test company) that takes the sample, and ask for the “Marcellus test” if you can afford it. It costs us about $600 for that and another $200 for a “flow test,” which any well driller can do for you.

  3. Magnificent. Stephen this is both moving and a powerful indictment of a broken system. I want to thank you for your support for the folks in the Woodlands and your participation in our rally. You are certainly not crude – your humanity shines brightly.

    Steve Beers, you might want to contact Marcellus Outreach Butler (marcellusoutreachbutler.net) to get some support with your water – we’ve got a number of resources available and we can put you in touch with a number of people who are in the same boat as you.

  4. Thank you, Michael.

    There is a great story to be told about the compassion of neighbors helping neighbors in the Woodlands community. Marcellus Outreach Butler and several churches and Walmart and Protecting Our Waters down in Philly have all mobilized an ongoing response to get water to people whose water has been ruined by drilling, people who have been abandoned by their Harrisburg government. What’s going on in the Woodlands community got me to thinking about Bruce Springsteen’s new song “We Take Care of Our Own,” especially these lyrics:

    I’ve been knockin’ on the door that holds the throne
    I’ve been lookin’ for the map that leads me home
    I’ve been stumblin’ on good hearts turned to stone
    Those good intentions have gone dry as bone
    We take care of our own

    We needed help but the cavalry stayed home,
    There ain’t no-one hearing the bugle blown
    We take care of our own
    Wherever this flag’s flown
    We take care of our own.

    Where’s the eyes, the eyes with the will to see
    Where’s the hearts that run over with mercy
    Where’s the love that has not forsaken me
    Where’s the work that sets my hands, my soul free
    Where’s the spirit to reign, reign over me
    Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea
    Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea

    Wherever this flag is flown
    We take care of our own

    Something about this song is resonating deeply with many Americans. More than 1.2 million have watched the video online http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3Bz0d2xm7U

    Maybe many Americans are feeling abandoned by governments that have been taken over by the power of corporate money – especially the money of big energy corporations and big energy lobbyists. We are living in a era where we cannot depend on government to protect us, so we must do it ourselves. Maybe Springsteen is channeling that feeling many of us have.

  5. When I initially commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove people from that service?
    Bless you!

  6. Russ says:

    I truly seem to go along with pretty much everything that is posted throughout “Why is Senator Joseph Scarnati So Mad at Me?
    | angerandcourage”. I am grateful for all the details.Many thanks-Luella

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