How Money in Politics is Shaping the Fracking Debate
By Sharon Kelly
When Barack Obama visited Ohio in mid-March during one of his many swings through the crucial battleground state, John Kasich, the state’s Republican governor, made a point of pulling the president aside to put in a good word about a topic of growing importance in Ohio: natural gas fracking.
“I was telling him that what we’re doing in Ohio is, we’re setting standards so that we can have a safe environment and at the same time have economic development,” Governor Kasich recounted telling the president during a NCAA basketball game in Dayton.
This sort of advocacy isn’t free. In the past four years the oil and gas industry has given more than $200,000 to Kasich, making him the state’s top recipient of campaign contributions from oil and gas companies. Since 2001, Kasich received more than twice as much money from fossil fuel interests as any other state office holder.
For the industry, this is money well spent. Soon after taking office in January 2011, Kasich opened 200,000 acres in Ohio’s state parks for drilling and appointed a former oil and gas executive to run the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Even after the industry’s statehouse allies annoyed the governor by blocking his modest plans to impose a small severance tax on drilling, Kasich’s loyalty remained firm. In May, the governor approved new fracking rules for the state that will, among other things, prohibit Ohio citizens or local governments from appealing any drilling permits, prevent doctors from disclosing whether patients’ ailments might be related to drilling, and allow for well casings to be set within 50 feet of groundwater aquifers—half the distance recommended by the American Petroleum Institute. EcoWatch has called the legislation, parts of which were written by the gas industry and its lobbyists, “one of the worst fracking laws in the nation.”
As a political swing state on the cusp of a drilling boom, Ohio is at the cutting edge of the nation’s debate over how to meet our energy needs. The statehouse wrangling over gas regulations—along with the huge amounts of money being spent there to influence voters ahead of the fall election—provides a window into how the fossil fuel industry plays an outsized role in shaping politics and policy.
The American energy industry is at a pivotal moment. New technologies like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) have opened vast deposits of petroleum and methane that were previously inaccessible. While the glut of natural gas has helped to drive coal’s share of US electricity generation to an all-time low (and, in the process, has flattened out the country’s carbon dioxide emissions), it has also put drilling companies in a financial squeeze. Caught between low gas prices and the high costs of shale gas extraction, many companies are looking for ways to either cut corners or increase prices via a rise in demand. Natural gas producers are pressing hard for gas exports, increased reliance on natural gas for electricity generation, and subsidies for trucks and busses that run on natural gas. Oil companies, meanwhile, are demanding more shale drilling on public lands. And environmentalists, of course, are pushing back against these efforts, arguing that the drilling rush is endangering water quality and wildlife habitat and reducing the market incentives for creating the kind of renewable energy system that will further reduce CO2 emissions.
The high stakes translate into a political battle royale as the fossil fuel industry commits to spending whatever it takes to influence voters and elect politicians who are sympathetic to its interests.
The oil and gas industry has been a political juggernaut since the days of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, and few sectors of society can match the industry’s influence in Washington. Since the 1970’s, when the nation’s cornerstone environmental laws were set in place, the oil and gas industry has again and again won major exclusions from environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Drillers’ waste is exempt from many standards on handling hazardous waste, and the so-called “Halliburton loophole,” passed in 2005, ensured that fracking lay outside of the purview of federal rules designed to protect the nation’s aquifers. The industry’s political clout is perhaps best demonstrated by the largesse it continues to receive from taxpayers—more than $55 billion in federal subsidies between 2011 and 2015—even in an era of austerity.
In recent years, oil and gas companies have put their political machine into an even higher gear. In 2009, the American Gas Association spent more than $1.1 million on federal lobbying, nearly double the $581,000 it spent in 2006. According to a report from Common Cause, federal campaign contributions from fracking industry employees and their political action committees (PACs) have skyrocketed since the drilling rush began. In 2006, the fracking industry made about $1.6 million in campaign contributions; by 2010 that figure had grown to $4.5 million. So far in this election cycle, the oil and gas industry as a whole has made more than $30 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress and to fossil fuel PACs, putting the industry on track to break the record $37 million it spent during the 2008 election.
By comparison, as of late July alternative energy companies had made less than $1.4 million in contributions to federal campaigns.
The industry is also focused on speaking directly to voters to try to sway the outcome of the fall election. Just two industry associations—America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute—have poured well more than $125 million into multimedia ad campaigns over the past three years. In January, the American Petroleum Institute (API) launched a saturation-style ad campaign dubbed “Vote 4 Energy.” The campaign by API features mainstream-looking people proclaiming that they are “energy voters” who support American jobs and drilling for domestic oil and gas. Jack Gerard, president and CEO of API, said during a Jan. 4 speech: “API worked to ensure that energy issues were prominent in policy discussions in several early primary states last year, and we will ensure they remain front-and-center in all states.”
As a result of such paid media campaigns, television viewers are far more likely to see commercials extolling the benefits of natural gas than they are to see news reports on the controversy, according to an analysis by the media watchdogs at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Five broadcasters—ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox—produced a total of nine news segments focused on fracking between January 2009 and November 2011, amounting to less than an hour of coverage. By contrast, 530 ads for “America’s oil and gas industry” or “America’s natural gas” aired on those stations during the same time period. Those 500-plus ads total four and a half hours of broadcasting.
While spending the tens of millions of dollars necessary to influence the national political discussion, the gas industry has boosted its lobbying of and campaign contributions to legislators in states that sit above the gas-rich Marcellus shale. In New York State, the gas industry spent $668,984 in 2009 on lobbying government officials, a six-fold increase from 2006. In Pennsylvania, which only began requiring lobbying reporting three years ago, lobbying expenditures went from $579,854 in 2007 to more than $1.6 million in the first two quarters of 2010 alone. Political donations from the energy sector to Pennsylvania politicians and PACs spiked from $4 million in 2008 to $7.5 million in 2010—the very same time as the fracking industry there was starting to take off.
Especially at the national level, the oil and gas industry’s political contributions are intensely partisan. Eighty-eight percent of the industry’s donations to federal candidates go to Republicans. In the 2012 election, the fossil fuel companies have a fresh opportunity to usher more Republican allies into office. The relatively sudden appearance of a domestic drilling industry has given oil and gas companies a chance to recast the perennial debate over energy production. Today, discussions over energy don’t just center on environmental worries and national security concerns, but also include the potent issue of job creation. In economically struggling places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, domestic energy production could be a wedge issue that splits the traditional Democratic constituencies of trade unionists and environmentalists—and helps deliver more seats to the fossil fuel-friendly GOP.
“If you go into certain regions of Pennsylvania, like out in the southwest for example, you get strong support from unions, business, Democrats and Republicans for the natural gas industry,” says Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College. “The environmental community is deeply concerned about chemical disclosures, air and water pollution.”
A good example of this wedge effect is the heated race for Ohio’s U.S. Senate seat occupied by Sherrod Brown, a Democrat fighting for re-election against Republican Josh Mandel, the Ohio state treasurer. Brown, who has a reputation as one of the Senate’s most progressive members, is struggling to avoid being outflanked on the drilling issue. “Energy is about jobs to me,” Brown has said. But Mandel keeps hammering him on the issue. In a December op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, the Republican challenger accused Brown of siding “with Washington bureaucrats and fringe extremists in the attacks on our natural resources.”
Residents in Ohio seem torn. For many, the prospect of fracking-related jobs is hard to pass up. But Ohio is also one of the states where geologists have traced a spike in small earthquakes to wastewater injection from gas wells. Many voters are worried that current environmental regulations are insufficient to prevent gas-drilling contamination of water supplies. Seventy-two percent of Ohioans say there should be a halt to hydraulic fracturing until more is known about the process, a January Quinnipiac University poll found.
Republicans who have heard of fracking favor the process by a wide margin, a recent survey by Pew Research found. “But among Democrats who are aware of fracking, there is a wide ideological gap,” Pew concluded. While the majority of liberal Democrats oppose fracking, conservative and moderate Democrats are evenly split between support and opposition.
The oil and gas industry and its ideological allies see a political opportunity in such surveys. In February, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched a $2.5 million ad campaign in Ohio charging that Senator Brown “voted to block American energy production and increase energy taxes.” And in June a newly formed political group called American Commitment—whose donors do not by law have to be disclosed—launched a $1.2 million ad campaign against Brown for his votes to maintain mercury emissions regulations on coal-fired power plants. The ad claimed that Brown’s vote would “raise our electricity costs.”
Political analysts say it is unclear whether drilling will help or hurt Senator Brown and President Obama in the upcoming elections. Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University, says that despite controversy over fracking, the drilling boom could bolster economic optimism. “This might help the president carry Ohio,” Asher says.
While it seeks to re-frame the energy debate to center on job creation, the fossil fuel industry and its elected helpmates are fighting to silence its critics. See, for example, the manufactured scandal around Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Al Armendariz.
When Armendariz was appointed by the Obama administration to head EPA’s Region 6—home to oil and gas states like Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana—he said he planned to rigorously enforce environmental laws in the area. Armendariz soon launched efforts to rein in air pollution and investigate reports of water contamination by Range Resources, one of the country’s top gas drillers.
For having the temerity to do his job, Armendariz came under intense criticism from some of the industry’s staunchest supporters in Congress like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe. “I have been made aware of a number of actions initiated by the EPA Region 6 Administrator Dr. Al Armendariz, which have alarmed state and local officials and regulated industries,” Inhofe wrote in a July 2010 letter objecting to the way Armendariz planned to enforce the Clean Air Act and questioning his focus on emissions from natural gas production. Over the course of his career, Inhofe has received $1.39 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, making him one of the Senate’s top recipients of fossil fuel donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Inhofe’s complaints gained little traction until last April, when the senator released footage of Armendariz speaking at a 2010 town meeting in Dish, Texas. “The Romans used to conquer little villages in the Mediterranean. They’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw and they would crucify them,” Armendariz says in the video, as he tries to explain how to get the oil and gas industry to abide by environmental regulations. “Find people who are not compliant with the law, and you hit them as hard as you can and you make examples out of them, and there is a deterrent effect there.”
While certainly impolitic, the statement represented a more-or-less sound philosophy of law enforcement. Nevertheless, the industry attack was immediate. The Wall Street Journal complained that Armendariz wanted to crucify the oil and gas companies, and soon Republican members of Congress were calling for Armendariz to resign. “Administrator Armendariz’s words reflect his disdain for the oil and gas industry and make clear that his decisions are made without an ounce of impartiality,” Representative Ted Poe of Texas, one of the first to call for Armendariz’s dismissal, said. “He should be fired.”
Within two weeks of the video’s release, Armendariz, a scientist who had been appointed to his post with the strong backing of Texas environmental groups, was forced to step down. In this current election cycle, Representative Poe’s biggest campaign contributor is—you guessed it—the oil and gas industry.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Sharon Kelly is a Pennsylvania attorney and freelance writer. She has reported for news outlets including The New York Times, National Wildlife and Grist.
This article first appeared in Earth Island Journal.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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