Coloradans forced to pay twice for gasoline

In Colorado, Clean Water Action and Colorado Conservation Voters held events on Tax Day to hold Congressmen Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton accountable for the special tax breaks and subsidies they are handing out to Big Oil. While at local gas stations, citizens asked why they were being forced to “shoulder more than $157 million of the burden for oil and gas tax breaks” especially when gas prices are at an all time high.

Fat Cat takes photos with drivers calling an end to taxpayer handouts to Big Oil. Source: Clean Water Action

“It’s high time Coloradans stop paying twice for gas – once at the pump and again on Tax Day,” said Gary Wockner, director of Clean Water Action. “We should end the billions in taxpayer handouts to Big Oil fat cats, but Reps. Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton have voted a half dozen times to protect Big Oil tax breaks.”

According to Clean Water Action:

Coloradans are paying just over $3.85 a gallon for gas, $0.29 more per gallon than one year ago. While Colorado families struggle to adjust to higher energy prices, the top five oil and gas companies alone reported $137 billion in profits this past year.

Oil and gas interests have given more than $6.8 million in campaign contributions to members of Congress so far this election cycle, 88 percent of which went to Republican members.

Rep. Mike Coffman has taken $164,800 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, and Rep. Scott Tipton has taken $104,600.

“Big Oil is buying-off our members of Congress, including Reps. Coffman and Tipton, to keep protect billions in special tax breaks,” said Wockner. “No wonder the only solution to gas prices these politicians offer up are gimmicks like ‘drill, baby, drill.”

“Instead of taking money from Big Oil, the Congressmen should vote to end Big Oil tax breaks and reinvest those funds in long term solutions such as transportation improvements, the next generation of renewable fuels, and high tech vehicles,” concluded Wockner.

Shut out and bought out

Pennsylvania citizens are unable to be heard during a public gas advisory board meeting, while those on the board get cozy in the Governor’s back pocket.

A week after toxic fluids from a hydraulic fracturing gas well spilled into waterways and onto farmlands in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, the state’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission met in Harrisburg. The hearing seemed to frustrate citizens more than it provided them an opportunity to voice their concerns.

Before the meeting began more than a hundred landowners from across the state expressed their frustration with the Commission.  One man, carrying a giant rubber stamp and using a bullhorn seemed particularly fed up. “What’s going on in the room behind us is Governor Corbett’s bought and paid for Marcellus Shale Commission. This is the group of people that will rubber stamp all the policies that Governor Corbett wants to enact,” said Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action Pennsylvania.

This message was a constant theme from the frustrated attendees, many of whom drove several hours to be heard at the public hearing. The morning’s analysis of the role the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission plays in Pennsylvania politics didn’t help matters either.

Of the thirty Commission members, more than a quarter of them have donated to Governor Tom Corbett’s campaign. In 2010, Corbett received $790,950 from eight of the corporations represented on the Commission and each reported between five and 174 violations that year. Chief Oil and Gas, responsible for 174 violations, donated $100,000 to Corbett’s campaign. The largest donation, $411,000, was made by East Resources, with 74 violations in 2010. Clean Water Action has the complete list.

Company 2010 Violations Corbett Conation
Atlas/Chevron

16

$54,500

Chesapeake

132

$11,000

Chief Oil and Gas

174

$100,000

CNX/Consol Energy

5

$56,750

East Resources

74

$411,000

EQT

15

$56,900

Range Resources

32

$80,000

XTO Energy/Exxon Mobile

66

$20,000

Source: Clean Water Action

With the donations report out just a week after the Bradford County spill, the frustrated crowd was eager to be heard at the commission meeting. Unfortunately, the room the 30-member commission held its hearing in was too small to accommodate many of the attendees and was closed off by police officers before the meeting and immediately after the hearing began because of fire code restrictions. When the landowners asked one police officer why a bigger room wasn’t provided for such a high profile meeting, an officer revealed that his staff had alerted the Department of Environmental Quality and the Lieutenant Governor’s office that they should have had a larger room well before the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission meeting. Members from the crowd also said they had personally made calls to the Department of Environmental Protection days ahead of the meeting.

After being shut out of attending the public hearing in person, the landowners headed up stairs at the Rachel Carson Office Building to watch a video cast of the public hearing in an overflow room. Sensing a growing level of frustration in the building, the Commission decided to move as quickly as possible to the public comment section part of the hearing. Yet, the frustration level of the landowners only grew as the first several names called spoke with high praise for both the commission and fracking in Pennsylvania, just days after the spill in Bradford County. According to several in attendance, the order that the speakers were called in did not match the order in which people signed up to speak.  “I signed on at number five. We were directed up here on the second floor where we were told to sign in. I was number five, no other sheet had signatures on it,” said Jet Miskis who traveled several hours to be at the meeting. Dr. Conrad Volz, of the University of Pittsburgh verified this. “Certainly none of these gentleman that were testifying on this list was on the list that I signed.”

As the meeting continued the Commission did begin to call the names of individuals with concerns about fracking in their back yards and near their water supplies. Outside of the overflow room upstairs Chad Sailor, the Communications Director for the Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor’s office, addressed the concerns surrounding both the small venue for this hearing and the order of speakers. Lt. Governor Cawley chairs the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.

“It was recommended that this be the space. It was recommended; we took a look at it and we decided that it was adequate space for what we needed.” Sailor said this after being asked if alternative venues could have been arranged. Sailor replied defensively saying, “what do you mean do you want a laundry list of all rooms available?” Sailor was then asked about the disputed speaking order. He first said that the list was determined by a first come first serve basis. It wasn’t until a woman corrected Sailor saying that, “what they did was they read the list that they had down stairs which were the supporters of the gas industry that they allowed in and the protesters that were outside protesting had to sign this sheet here which is why we were given second dibbs.” When Sailor sarcastically replied, “yes, everything is a big conspiracy,” the woman told the communications director that, “I didn’t say that was a conspiracy. It was the absolute truth, I was here, I signed it. I am speaking from fact.”

The Commission did end up listening to comments from all people who signed up on the various lists around the Rachel Connors Office Building. The comments expressed concerns ranging from aquifer and surface water contamination to concerns about toxic emissions released into the air. But almost all of those worried about fracking at the meeting expressed strong feelings of frustration relating to literally being shut out of the dialogue on Wednesday as well as being bought out by industry interests who control both the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission and the governor’s office in Pennsylvania.

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