I write to support John Hanger in the Democratic primary for Governor of Pennsylvania. If I write truly and honestly here, John will appreciate that I am pledging my vote for him next May, yet no doubt will also be a bit uneasy, maybe more than a bit, about aspects of my endorsement.
That is okay. We can be uncomfortable together because this endorsement is likely to cause some robust criticism to be directed at me – as one who has become known by many for my “one-man ban on fracking” at my farm in Jefferson County, and for my vow to use all available nonviolent means to resist fracking and other extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction. For me the potential outcome that some may judge me negatively for what I do here is much preferable to being silent about this most difficult of issues in the 2014 election cycle. I risk the disapproval of people I know and respect, even some whom I love. I accept that as part of a necessary process and look forward to comments and dialogue on this blog and elsewhere.
This gubernatorial election is far too important for those who oppose fracking not to show our cards among ourselves while it counts and to engender the deepest possible debate on what we shall do as a movement to end fracking, using the electoral process as one of our tools. The only position I find hard to accept is the position of abstaining from the election booth, but that too is a conscientious position for some. Not for me. For me that just means we risk four more years of a Governor Corbett, which would be disastrous on many fronts, or a Democrat who does not place the highest priority on climate change and sustainable energy solutions, which I believe are the preeminent issues of our times. If we as a movement are not mature enough to unite behind a gubernatorial candidate, in such a manner that the candidate will owe us something when she or he is in office, then we have some growing to do.
I am recommending John Hanger for Governor. If someone else has a stronger argument for another candidate, then let’s hear it; but they should please not limit their response to stating only why they think I am wrong. They must also state who does make sense to them for Governor and articulate the positions of their choice.
I could not write this if I did not think that John Hanger is a man of integrity, at his essence a good and decent man. I read him as a “good government” actor occupying a highly ambiguous political and historical space, a space within which we all live ambiguously at the end of the fossil fuel era. That has been my experience interacting with him personally and through emails over the past month. I am also well aware of negative reviews some have given him on integrity.
At the bottom line I am supporting Hanger because I believe that, among all the Democratic candidates, he is the one the gas companies fear the most. He is the one that could best slow up the gas industry’s rush to drill. He knows how to constrain their reckless behavior. He knows their games and their trickery. These companies turning huge portions of Pennsylvania into sacrifice zones look at the other candidates and, it appears to me, they are confident they can handle them.
Hanger is not calling for a blanket moratorium, but as I note below he does support two quite important moratoriums. He and I disagree about not having a blanket moratorium right away. I am calling for a cessation to all drilling until the long-term environmental impacts are fully studied and understood. That is because I see long-term unacceptable risks to aquifers under half of Pennsylvania, as well as other predictable water, air and public health calamities at the surface where we live, in the here and now, and we dare not forget about the climate change impacts. However, Hanger is calling for pieces of what any moratorium should include, such as keeping drilling out of the Delaware River Basin (more on that below), making it harder or impossible to drill in state forests and parks, and pledging to shut down bad actors and prohibit them from operating in our state. Even Hanger cannot stop the 6,000-7,000 new wells already permitted. Senator Ferlo’s moratorium bill cannot do that, so there is much work ahead to make sure the permitted wells and other facilities do the least amount of harm. However, if new permits are slowed up, if gas companies find that they need to focus more on safety and better practices at existing facilities, and especially if they must devote more time and resources to retrofitting leaking infrastructure and emissions-spewing machinery, that all works to the good of slowing them up.
There are reasons Hanger supports drilling for natural gas, most of which appear to revolve around his analysis that coal-fired electrical generation kills too many people now with particulates in the air, whereas gas does burn cleaner, even if it may be as bad or worse than burning coal in terms of its greenhouse gas emissions. Hanger sees fugitive methane and other emissions problems quite clearly, but he also thinks these problems can be much better controlled than they are now.
I have come to believe that Hanger’s concern for those who suffer and die from coal emissions is genuine, as genuine as his belief that he can clean up and mitigate the worst impacts of the natural gas industry. He also sees that enough gas is already flowing to achieve the one major goal he has in mind, reducing smokestack emissions of generating electricity. There is no need to speed up gas production. It is the gas companies that want to expedite new permitting and get their claws deeper into our future.
The fact that Hanger does not support a complete moratorium on all unconventional drilling bothers me, but it is not a sufficient reason to refuse support of him as a candidate for Governor, given the alternatives. There are many other issues of concern to all progressives where this election matters – education, affordable healthcare for all, jobs in clean energy, poverty, union rights, conservation, LGBT rights, women’s rights, and protection of voting rights to name some – where John and other Democratic candidates are more alike than they are different. There is the medical marijuana issue where John is out front of other candidates and leading, in order to reduce the suffering of cancer or AIDS, and to reduce mass incarceration for minor drug offenses. That is why he gained the endorsement of NORML. However, on the energy and environment issues he stands out very much from the others, if for no other reason than that he offers specifics about what he plans to do. The technocratic, spreadsheet-wielding, good-government side of him by which he authored the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment is present throughout his platform. That means he is not all empty or nice-sounding promises and rhetoric. He has put out plans by which he expects to be held accountable. And as noted below, there are at least two, or you could call it three, moratoriums on drilling that he does support
That, and his personal history as a man who was there when fracking got underway, make him a responsive candidate, willing much more than others to dialogue with those who oppose his positions. When I ask how responsive other mainstream Democratic candidates are, I do not know what to expect from them. Hopefully they will tell me and others more about what they plan to do on the energy and environment fronts in real, measurable terms. Until they do, Hanger has set the standard for that kind of accountability, and thus I believe he will actually respond to the people of Pennsylvania if he becomes Governor. I also believe it matters to him now and will matter to him when we present clear evidence of harm to our families, our land, our water, our goats and cattle, and our trout-laden streams and rivers.
If we look closely at the Hanger for Governor website, there are items in his energy and environment plans that will cause the gas industry to huff and puff their usual threats that they must leave the “anti-business” state if regulations are tightened and a fair severance tax is enacted. John will call their bluff on that. I wish they would leave, but if they stay, which they will, then there are better ways to control what they do and protect the health of Pennsylvanians and the environment.
I do not think I will have to make this point much longer. If Hanger’s campaign moves up in the polls, then we need only watch as the gas industry’s PR machine kicks into action to cripple him. They will kneecap him, to use an old organized crime term. This is the man they least want to be sitting or walking about in the Governor’s office.
Let me be frank about what my endorsement of John Hanger’s campaign means. I do not look to the Governor of Pennsylvania to stop fracking, or even the President of the United States. That will come from “we the people,” or not, as coming months and years will tell. It will come as we succeed, or not, in building a people-powered resistance to fracking. It will come from organizing from below, from municipal bans and moratoria, from smart legal fights (like the one that just gutted parts of Act 13 and breathed new life into the state constitution’s environmental rights amendment), and from nothing less than the overthrow of corporate control of our democracy, which many of us are working on in many ways. As I have written before, I think we need full spectrum resistance to fracking (and to all the related ills it represents), and it is my opinion that choices within the electoral process must be a part of that spectrum. Efforts to build up citizen-based science or to gather the evidence of harm (air pollution, water contamination, health impacts) must be a part of that spectrum. Efforts to wrest additional voluntary controls, real and measurable controls, from some gas companies are in that spectrum.
With this endorsement of John Hanger’s campaign for Governor I am no less for a moratorium now than ever I have been before. I stand with the Democratic State Committee and its call for a moratorium. I have repeatedly stood up clearly for a ban on fracking, if necessary a “one-man ban” at my farm, even as I recognize that collective action is the best route to ending fracking. I gave away a significant portion of the economic value of my 50-acre organic farm when I recorded a unique conservation easement in the name of my late wife (whose ashes now nourish the high pasture) to protect it from fracking, along with Nature and all her children as she and they exist and flourish on my farm. I am prepared to defend my farm with all my energy and perhaps even my liberty if that becomes necessary. I will act to protect my children, my grandchildren and the Earth from fracking, because it is part of defending the Earth from escalating climate change that makes unsustainable the future of all earthly life as we now know and enjoy it. My barn is topped by a $100,000 solar array that powers the farm’s operations. I will continue to act daily to educate people to reject all extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction, and to demand a sustainable future built on renewable forms of energy. I will keep making changes in my personal consumption of energy to reduce my carbon footprint.
So even though he does not support a blanket moratorium, I think that John Hanger more than any other candidate will slow down the drilling, examine the permits more carefully, put more staff in the field to monitor, schedule more inspections, take more measurements and in manifold other ways slow up the fracking. That gives our movement more time to grow and gain power.
With 18% of the United States’ natural gas coming from the Marcellus Shale alone this past year, and with the prediction that all electric power generation plants will be converted to natural gas by 2035, we are up against a massive industry that will not quickly be stopped. Report after report show natural gas as the cheap (and getting cheaper) feedstock of chemical agricultural fertilizers that are ruining our soils and expanding the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico (adding to what BP already killed). Natural gas is the next big thing in exports to reduce America’s balance of trade. We delude ourselves if we think we can have now a Governor in 2014 that will stop the fracking with a moratorium or ban. We have a long slog ahead of us, and our victories will be stepwise, not in leaps and bounds.
It matters when a candidate tells the people of Dimock who have remained there after their wells were ruined, that as a personal promise to them he will see to it that all compressor stations be retrofitted with technology to reduce dangerous emissions into the air by 90%. It matters when a candidate says that he will regulate out of existence open pit impoundments of frack waste, or stop flaring, or set up a special ombudsman office to handle complaints from citizens about how gas drilling has impacted them.
Coming to this endorsement has not been easy for me. John and I have dialogued in person and through a series of phone conferences and emails about his positions and his history. I will share a little of what he has told me that, take it or leave it as others may, I believe to be true representations of what he will do:
- On the question of moratorium, or to be more precise “moratoriums” of different sorts, these appear to be the facts: Hanger wrote with John Quigley, former director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the moratorium on fracking in state forests and he promises to continue that moratorium. He says he is the only candidate who has advanced a real proposal to keep drilling out of state parks. That is true. He wants to establish an impact fee of $3 million per well for drilling on state lands where the gas resources are owned by private parties. This is important because in some cases there is so-called “private property” below the forests; thus by law the state must allow drilling, but there are actions at the surface that the state can take to discourage the drilling or, if drilling happens, have the resources to clean up the mess. Furthermore, as Hanger sees it, he established in Dimock, PA a company-specific, geographic-specific moratorium against Cabot Oil and Gas in 2010 that continues in part to this day. He has said that he will again impose company-specific moratoriums where warranted by the bad behavior of the company.
- Hanger does not believe that fracking in the Delaware River Basin (DRB) is inevitable. There is ample drilling in other parts of Pennsylvania that must be proven safe and that occupy the state’s attention now (too little attention, which he will increase). He agrees that a comprehensive environmental impact study must be done for the DRB before any drilling is allowed. He is prepared to offer state resources for such a study. He is not satisfied with DRBC rules on fracking as they now stand. He has written the Delaware River Basin Commission advising them to maintain the moratorium because the state of Pennsylvania is presently incapable of regulating more wells in the DRB. He has told me that his plan to increase DEP inspectors by 105 positions immediately after becoming Governor does not include enough new inspectors to monitor new development in the DRB. He will recommend as Governor that all future decisions of the Delaware River Basin Commission require a 4-1 vote for passage of any decision, versus the current 3-2 voting rule, so that decisions are less political and more consensus-based on the science at hand.
- Hanger will identify funds for a comprehensive public health study at least in the southwest and north-central/northeast areas of Pennsylvania where drilling has been most concentrated. He will support efforts by Geisinger Healthcare and others to collect and analyze existing data so that we have a scientific assessment of public health impacts in proximity to gas drilling infrastructure.
- Hanger will increase, in the first year after taking office, the DEP oil and gas staff by another 105 employees and even more thereafter.
- Hanger states that he will stop the discharge into streams and rivers of all drilling wastewater that is not fully treated.
- On ramping up renewable energy, Hanger has told me that his goal is “getting us out of the box of relying on the four traditional energy sources for the 90% of our energy that they provide now… (and will) fight like hell to increase PA’s 24 wind farms and about 1,400 megawatts of wind energy by four times in eight years; (and he will) increase solar in PA at least ten times from today’s approximately 200 megawatts and 7,000 solar facilities.” These are essential goals if reliance on fossil fuels is to be reduced and eliminated.
- As for Gasland 2 pointing out that Hanger went to work for the Eckert Seamans law firm that is a member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), that part is true – Eckert Seamans is part of MSC and Hanger does work for them. But the movie’s implication that this was a “revolving door” move by which Hanger profited from his former public service is not a fair criticism in my view. Hanger told me that his work at Eckert Seamans included going after the drilling company Range Resources in the Parker County, Texas case that is highlighted in Gasland 2, defending proposed EPA Air Toxic rules (testifying to Congress in support of the rules), representing Pennsylvania’s largest wind developer, working for solar companies to build solar generation, and writing a green economic development plan for Harrisburg. True, his work also included helping to promote the Center for Sustainable Shale Development collaboration between some large green groups, some foundations and the gas industry. Many of us have been sharply critical of any attempt to claim that shale development can be done safely and recoil at the idea that it can be sustained with voluntary “best practices,” but Hanger sincerely believes in the ameliorative effects of working collaboratively with the industry. So Hanger’s work at Eckert Seamans is a mixed bag as it often is in larger law firms. In his view it was all directed toward doing some good for the environment and protecting public health, a point of view that I leave to others to judge. I have come to believe he intends to do good in an arena where doing good is complex and easily subjected to good-vs.-evil lines of demarcation. The Eckert Seamans website lists two primary contacts for its Marcellus Shale practice. Neither one is John Hanger.
Lastly, let me say this. In the final analysis this essay is not about John Hanger for Governor, but about my life (and the lives of many others) living above the Marcellus Shale. This endorsement is most of all directed toward all those wonderful people I have come to know and love in the put-Nature-first, anti-fracking, pro-renewables, pro-energy-conservation, pro-sustainability, anti-fossil fuels, reverse-climate-change movement (we are trying to move so much, it is hard to call it a simple name). It is in that context that I write about why I support John Hanger in the here-and-now array of political choices for Governor.
The anti-fracking community, it seems to me, is fractured and in significant ways demoralized when it comes to electoral politics. I believe that is partly the success of the gas industry in presenting a behemoth of an industry that seems unstoppable, and that appears to have thoroughly bought our state government. Our activist community, like the communities in the gas fields of PA, is easily rendered ineffective by internal squabbles based in some significant extent on the manipulations of the gas industry. They laugh while we argue as to the purity of our resistance or the necessary accommodations with the gas industry that some of us are making to protect our homes and families. The industry has $20 million in the Corbett war chest to make us all look silly as we argue ourselves into irrelevance.
As a practical matter, I want a candidate who can win and, after winning, act to slow down the rush to drilling. I am confident that we as a movement to stop fracking can take advantage of that. For me that man is John Hanger, but one question remains: what about the others?
Here is how I see them. I look at all candidates for Governor through the lens of climate change and what they have to say about that. Every political leader we elect from here on out needs to focus in a major way on energy issues and climate change. We do not have another decade to waste in Pennsylvania or in the world to preserve the planet for future generations. This is not a side issue, not an optional issue whose solution can wait any longer. With less than one-fifth of 1% of the worlds’ population, Pennsylvania contributes 1% of carbon emissions worldwide. We have a responsibility to get our energy and greenhouse emissions under control, and soon.
Rob McCord is an effective speaker, a man espousing basic values we should expect from a Democratic Party candidate, and a candidate whose populist flair is fun to witness, but his website says almost nothing about energy and climate change issues. He seems not interested in it. That is not acceptable. He needs to wake up to this issue of energy and climate.
I liked Max Myers as a man when I met him, and I appreciate his sincere support of a moratorium, but his soft touch will not cut it with the natural gas industry. They will eat him up. He is not in any case, as best I can tell, a viable candidate for Governor.
Tom Wolf sees almost nothing but good coming from the Marcellus Shale development “if done right” (as he says on his website), but again he is one who sees the shale gas industry through the rose-colored glasses of “jobs” for the economy and “better regulations” to reduce environmental harm. He offers on his website not a word about climate change – only a brief nod toward “renewable energy technology” – nor does he offer specifics about what must be done to control a complex and powerful industry. How would he do that? He would be starting from scratch when it comes to controlling the natural gas industry and I cannot detect a deep understanding of the energy issues.
If Allyson Schwartz is the leading establishment candidate of the national Democratic Party, she may win, but as one who has said “shale gas is here to stay” I’d like to see her challenged to be more specific about this shale gas that she thinks is “here to stay.” She needs to say how the health of Pennsylvanians and the purity of our water and air will be protected in the future she imagines for our state. She needs to show that she is conversant on the issues of climate change that are involved in committing ourselves to yet more fossil fuel extraction and combustion. Right now she echoes the Obama Administration’s full-throated support for fracking, and she has not yet admitted (to my knowledge) that she lives in an area exempted from fracking. So what does she really know about it? Not much, it appears. Yet she feels confident enough about fracking to say other parts of the state should have it, and to label as “misguided” the state Democratic Party’s vote for a blanket moratorium.
As for Kathleen McGinty, who should have the bona fides on energy and climate issues, she failed to impress me as a member of the Natural Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board when I went there to testify. Like the rest of them she was there to make natural gas extraction happen, not to consider whether an outcome of the subcommittee could be a recommendation to stop the drilling. She was part of a process with a foregone conclusion, and that was a disingenuous process in my view. When she says it is “Pennsylvania’s time to shine” or that Pennsylvania should become a “blue collar Silicon Valley,” she has natural gas extraction right at the center of those rosy visions.
At least John Hanger speaks of natural gas as one of the “ugly choices” for dealing with Pennsylvania’s energy needs. At least Hanger has a clear program for moving beyond the ugly choices with due haste. At least he wrote the state’s Climate Action Plan and has a set of clear proposals to reduce pollution by 30%. He will not be starting from scratch.
Until someone else in the field can show themselves as a viable candidate with a specific plan to get the natural gas industry under tighter control, while ramping up renewables and energy conservation efforts toward reducing global warming, and offers the specifics that John Hanger has offered, and possesses the credibility that they know enough about this natural gas industry to control it better, then my vote goes to John Hanger for Governor.
J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD
ParadiseGardens and Farm