In Albany this week, the focus has been on redistricting and pensions.  However, there are a lot of interesting things happening elsewhere….

For instance, in Washington, DC, the Senate defeated a bill to extend tax credits to methane-powered vehicles.  Even the dynamic duo of Harry Reid and T. Boone Pickens couldn’t convince the Senators that a methane-powered fuel infrastructure made sense.  Maybe that is partly explained by this, from the article linked above:

The natural-gas bills have also fueled a clash between Pickens and Koch Industries, the Kansas-based conglomerate helmed by billionaire brothers who are active in conservative causes.

Of course, renewable fuels based on ehtanol and cellulosic ethanol had just recently lost their tax credit, too, when the Senate voted down a bill that would renew them.

Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, there will be a meeting of the multi-state Susquehanna River Basin Commission coming up this Thursday, March 15.  Major water withdrawal approvals are on the agenda. The written public comment period is over for this meeting, but many environmental groups are still urging their members to “beware the Ides of March,” and let their Commission members know by phone call or email that they want the Susquehanna River protected.

The SRBC plans to approve many billions of gallons of water withdrawals for fracking at their March 15th meeting, further accelerating the already rapid pace of high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing in the watershed. Surface and drinking water already contaminated by methane and toxic chemicals in multiple locations in the watershed has not been remediated (because it can’t be remediated). SRBC has not undertaken any cumulative impact study of fracking’s life cycle impacts on the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, which is already in critical condition and can’t take any more abuse.

Also in Harrisburg, the Pennsylvania legislature passed Act 13, and Governor Corbitt signed it into law, giving local governments in PA a really raw deal.  Steven Rosenfeld writes that that Pennsylvania’s Act 13 is “perhaps the worst new environmental law in the nation,” as “Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders have given the natural gas industry unprecedented power to overrule local government and drill anywhere. ”  Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court had ruled that Pennsylvania towns and cities had the right to zone where gas drilling would take place…. and, very shortly after that, the legislature and Governor got together to promote Act 13 and make sure that localities no longer had the right to decide where and whether drilling would take place in their borders.  Instead, the localities are being placated by being given the chance to impose a “fee” on gas wells that amounts to a very low taxation rate.  Which is better than what PA had before– no tax on gas wells— but a far cry from the norm in oil and gas states, which is both a local property tax and a state severance tax (which is sometimes also shared with localities).  Apparently, as Pennsylvania politicians are bought off cheap, they assume their Counties should also be.

Tucked into that PA Act 13 is also an ugly provision that prevents doctors from acting when a public health threat is identified due to environmental contamination. Two medical professionals, Dr. Bernard Goldstein (emeritus professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health) and Jill Kriesky (senior project coordinator at Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Health Environments and Communities) write in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed a bill that goes beyond just ignoring concerns about the potential human health effects of Marcellus Shale drilling, it retains some of the worst aspects of industry secrecy about proprietary hydrofracking chemicals while making unethical demands on physicians…..

Under the newly enacted law, copied almost verbatim from a controversial Colorado law, a physician may receive information about a proprietary chemical used in the fracking process, but the physician must agree to not reveal this information to the public. The law also allows the company to keep secret from physicians information about agents that come up from the ground during drilling, such as natural gas constituents — which themselves can be toxic — and naturally occurring toxic agents such as arsenic, barium, brine components and radioactive compounds dissolved in flowback water. Nor can public health authorities begin with knowledge of a secret chemical and ask whether there is an increase in an illness that the chemical is known to cause.

The new PA law protects corporate profits…. but not public health.  Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Tribune has the story on the New York Assembly building funding into their budget bill for a Health Impacts Study on HVHF.  Makes one proud to be a New Yorker.

A gas drilling moratorium was passed in a town in…. Texas.  Denton, Texas.

Back in New York State, Norse Energy is continuing to apply for gas drilling permits for HVHF, even though the DEC will likely require them to reapply when they have determined the process for applying.  Norse wants to be “first in line.”  Or, perhaps they think they can sell those assets if they tell the clueless investors that the permits have been applied for already….

And, in Delaware County, old animosities are being rekindled, as the Delaware County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution titled “Property Rights Reparations,” demanding that NYS and NYC pay it 81.3 Billion dollars over 60 years.  The war metaphor (“reparations” are generally something that follows heavy combat) is not out of place in describing the antipathy that some Delaware County residents hold for the citizens and government of the major metropolis that sources its water from reservoirs in its Catskill Mountains.  In this instance, even the pro-fracking advocates recognize a bit of “political theater” in the action.

In Colorado, the Governor misinforms the public, while citizens worry about how good a job their state’s environmental watchdogs are doing on jobs like investigating radioactive sand from fracking dumped into unpermitted pits.  Why are they nervous?  Well…..

The incident occurred at a time when public awareness and anxiety about the impacts of fracking are escalating, just over a week after Gov. John Hickenlooper released an oil industry-sponsored ad extol-ling the safety record of fracking operations in Colorado.

Here’s hoping Andrew Cuomo doesn’t get jealous and demand that the gas companies give him a cameo ad, too.