The laws that ensure the safety of our water and air no longer protect us all as they once did. They don't apply to frackers, so for people who have had what they drink, bathe in, and breathe contaminated by fracking, they might as well not exist at all. Now, legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives would end these fracking exemptions and restore the full protections of our water and air for everyone.

Fracking, the commonly used term for hydraulic fracturing, is a process used to extract natural gas that involves drilling as far as 10,000 feet underground and injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals to pressure rock into cracking and releasing the gas.

visualization of how fracking contaminates water from the documentary Gasland by Josh Fox
visualization of how fracking contaminates water from the documentary Gasland by Josh Fox
Scientific research on the environmental impacts of fracking is hotly debated. Some research says fracking cannot be done safely, while industry-funded groups collectively referred to as frackademia claim it does no harm. I don't think those of us who are wary of fracking need our argument to hinge on it always being unsafe. Even if it only has the potential to make your water and air hazardous to your health, the ongoing debate shows it still needs to be thoroughly researched. When such basic elements of life are at stake, exercising the utmost caution is common sense. People don't want to just hope for the best with that.

But it's even worse than it sounds. Early in his first term, Pres. George W. Bush appointed the Energy Policy Task Force, which was led by VP Dick Cheney and had a whole bunch of top oil and gas executives from corporations including BP, Shell Oil, and Exxon Mobil. They were assigned with developing a national energy plan, and their recommendations passed into law as the Energy Policy Act of 2005. With the regulatory process headed up by those supposedly being regulated, the law exempted frackers from such fundamental environmental regulations as the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Clean Air Act that any other industry threatening these natural resources would have to abide by. These exemptions are frequently referred to as the Halliburton loophole or the Cheney loophole.

Dick Cheney Darth Vader
former VP Dick Cheney in his natural habitat
So if it turned out that fracking in or near your community was poisoning your water and air after all, oh well. They weren't bound by those laws anyway. How convenient.

New bills in the House of Representatives called the FRESHER Act and the BREATHE Act would close these egregious loopholes. The Focused Reduction of Effluence and Stormwater runoff through Hydraulic Environmental Regulation (FRESHER) Act would end the fracking exemptions to water regulations and the Bringing Reductions to Energy’s Airborne Toxic Health Effect (BREATHE) Act would end them for air regulations. These necessary environmental protections were introduced by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA 17th) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO 2nd).

Jared Polis
Rep. Jared Polis
I first met Matt Cartwright when he came to meet the Monroe County Progressive Democrats before the 2012 primary election. We endorsed him partially because fracking is a big issue for us and he was always very strong on it, even then saying he wanted to end these exemptions. During that campaign, his staff and that of PA House Democratic candidate Maureen Madden, which included me, shared some office space for phone-banking. I wrote the script for calls in areas where the two districts overlapped so we could help each other out. One of the issues brought up in that script was the Halliburton loophole. People who I talked to on the phone were shocked to learn that this industry didn't have to follow these rules. As you can imagine, it's a personal point of pride for me that Matt is one of the two introducing this legislation.
Matt Cartwright
Rep. Matt Cartwright
If fracking doesn't present a danger to the safety of anyone's water and air, frackers won't be violating these laws anyway, so they don't need these exemptions. If fracking does present such a danger, and it does, then for the sake of our environment and natural resources, we cannot allow them to maintain these exemptions. They serve no logical purpose other than prioritizing profits over the health of the people. They create a situation where people who live in an area where there's no fracking have the full protection of water and air regulations and people who live where there is fracking do not. It's time we all were protected equally again.

Originally posted to ProgressivePatriotPA on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 04:53 AM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Pennsylvania, American Legislative Transparency Project, and DK GreenRoots.

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