Right-wingers and the Environment

We conventionally equate right-wingers with “conservatives” (and, in the U.S., with Republicans). But if nothing else does, the right’s approach to the environment proves the equivalency false. Or, at the least, it proves that in politics we badly misuse the term “conservative.”

A good example is here in Pennsylvania. The governor-elect, Republican Tom Corbett, included in his platform opposition to an extraction tax on shale gas, the deep-drilling of which is currently rampaging across the state.

After his election Nov. 2, he announced the likelihood he’d overturn outgoing Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s recent moratorium on new drilling on state lands, including parkland.

Some background on shale gas. It is deposits of natural gas in a layer of porous shale rock that underlies most of the state (and parts of New York, Ohio and West Virginia) a mile or more deep. The gas is extracted by a process called hydrofracturing. “Fracking” involves shooting a mix of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into this rock layer, releasing the gas.

Theg fracking fluid is toxic, and millions of gallons might be used on a single well. (The bore holes are drilled horizontally, and it is typical to drill several from a single well platform.)

Some of the water remains underground. Some is drawn back up, now contaminated with salts, arsenic and other toxins it picked up underground, and it requires careful disposal to prevent poisoning of surface and groundwater.

The Pennsylvania shale is called Marcellus, but there are shale-gas deposits throughout the U.S., especially in Texas, where it is called the Barnett Shale, and in the Rocky Mountain states.

Most everywhere it’s drilled there have been instances of fouled water and air, including sick people and poisoned livestock. (See the documentary Gasland: www.gaslandthemovie.com/.) There have also been accounts of drillers illegally disposing of the poisonous frack water untreated into streams. (The withdrawal of huge quantities of freshwater is another issue.)

Needless to say, the shale gas field is enormously lucrative. (Corbett’s campaign received massive love-injections of cash from the drilling industry, far exceeding those of his Democratic rival, who favors an extraction tax.)

Every state where it is drilled has an extraction tax, save one: Pennsylvania. A proposal to institute one failed this year with a Democratic governor, and is unlikely to pass with a Republican who’s opposed.

Many think we shouldn’t be drilling for shale gas at all. New York state has a moratorium on shale-gas drilling, largely because of concerns about how it might affect the water supply.

But absent a similar moratorium, it seems the least you could do is impose a tax, if only to use the revenue to police this exploitative, unavoidably toxic business and keep the damage to the earth (and hence to humans) to a minimum.

Likewise with a moratorium on drilling on state lands, including some of the state’s most ecologically sensitive places.

All wealth, and all human well-being, derives ultimately from nature. A sick planet cannot support healthy people. This is one of the most fundamental truths, and one any true conservative ought to recognize.

This isn’t a brief for Democrats, or even liberals; while Dems have better records on the environment, most of them too worship at the church of the ecological destruction they call economic growth, and are green only by comparison to Republicans.

The point is, right-wingers like Corbett are not conservatives. They’re industry toadies. Put another way, they’re pro-business radicals, and you can count on most moves they make to be bad for nature.

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One Response to Right-wingers and the Environment

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