The few, the loud, the anti-fossil fuel crowd

Commentary by Marita Noon

If you get your news from the mainstream media, you likely think the views expressed by the environmental activists represent the majority of Americans. After all, their highly visible protests against the Keystone pipeline – sit-ins in front of the White House, locking themselves to the White House fence and then being arrested for it, and parading down the National Mall carrying a huge inflated tube emblazoned with the words: “Just say no to Keystone” – were effective. Despite repeated polling that showed a majority of Americans supported the pipeline, with a small minority opposed, the loud theatrics of the anti-fossil fuel crowd eventually won out. After years of stall tactics, President Obama finally bowed to their demands and said no to the job-creating infrastructure project.

Earlier this year, the usual group of suspects, led by well-known anti-fracking activist Bill McKibben, planned a “global wave of resistance” called BreakFree2016 - scheduled to take place from May 3-15 – on six continents. The event’s website announced the various activities, including an appearance and speech by McKibben, a Vermont resident, at the Colorado rally that promised: the “largest mass mobilizations for climate action in the history of Colorado.” It confirmed that there would be “civil disobedience.”

Did you hear about it? Probably not.

A news report of the planned Colorado activities said: “And on May 14, 350 Colorado is planning a day of speeches, live music and activities protesting oil and gas developments close to neighborhoods and schools in Thornton. The goal is to draw 1,000 people to the upcoming events.” The website, post-event, states: “about 800 people joined the action throughout the day” with “about 30-40 people” still there at the end of the day for the dramatic “frack-site” invasion. Yet, as even their own Facebook page photos indicate, not even 100 were present for the big McKibben speech. Without vendors and media, he may have had no audience at all.

After flying in to Denver, and then being driven to the protest site in a limousine, McKibben jetted off to Los Angeles, California, where he was joined by the greens’ “Daddy Warbucks,” billionaire political campaign donor Tom Steyer – with much the same results: a few hundred protesting fossil fuels and, as Energy In Depth reported, “the very social and economic underpinnings of liberal democracy.” The typical anti-everything protestors were present – but only a few.

In Iowa, as I addressed last week, a meeting of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition – which according to the organizer includes those with “concerns about the impact it could have on the environment, farmers who worry about their cropland and religious groups who view expanding use of fossil fuels as a moral issue because of climate change” – expected a crowd of 200. Instead, according to the Ottumwa Courier, “only 40 or so were seated when the meeting began. Others trickled in as the meeting progressed.”

Now, Colorado is ground zero for “one of the biggest environmental fights in the country this year,” as Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain region director for Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for safety in food production and oil and gas production, called it. Two ballot initiatives, 75 and 78, have the potential to, according to Colorado regulators, “effectively halt new oil and gas development in as much as 90 percent of the state.” In order to get the initiatives on the ballot, 98,492 valid signatures needed to be turned into the Colorado Secretary of State by August 8 – no later than 3:00 p.m.

In June, The Tribune reported that Tricia Olson, who has pumped in most of the funding for a group backing initiatives 75 and 78, hoped to “collect 160,000 signatures to account for the invalid signatures that inevitably pop up.” (Politico just announced: “recent campaign finance reports were filed with the Colorado secretary of state, the Sierra Club gave $150,000, making it the largest single reported contributor to the anti-fracking effort.”)

Because the Colorado Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision on May 2, declared local fracking limits “invalid and unenforceable,” as state law trumps local ordinances, Olson sees the ballot initiatives as their “last ditch effort.”

On Monday, August 8, exercising stagecraft, at 2:30 p.m., dozens of supporters emptied a U-Haul truck and delivered box after box of signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. They celebrated their “victory.” 350 Colorado, one of the groups behind the measures, proclaimed: “We did it! Over 100,000 signatures delivered on initiatives to limit fracking!” – not the 160,000 originally hoped for, and likely not enough to get on the ballot in November.

By CBS Denver’s accounting about 105,000 signatures were turned in – most in half empty boxes. Lynn Bartels, Colorado Secretary of State Communications Director, tweeted: “Proponents of fracking measures turned in lots of boxes with very few petitions in them.” Once the petitions were consolidated, there were roughly 50 empty boxes. Simon Lomax, an associate energy policy analyst with the conservative Independence Institute in Denver and a consultant who advises pro-business groups, said: “To make it look more impressive they added a bunch of empty boxes, or boxes with very few petitions. It just sort of shows, these groups don’t do substance, they just do deceptive publicity stunts.”

On CBS Denver, former Secretary of State Scott Gessler explained that since you need about 98,000 signatures to get on the ballot because, for a variety of reasons, at least 30 percent are rejected, you need to submit at least 140,000. He says that for the 105,000 signatures turned in to qualify would be “unprecedented,” something that “has never occurred in Colorado for a ballot initiative.” According to Gessler, the effort is “doomed” – though we will not know for sure until next month when the final counts are released.

Noted election reporter and national affairs columnist for the National Review, John Fund, told me: “If there is enough public support for an issue to get the votes needed to pass, getting a surplus of signatures to get it on the ballot is an easy task.”

Many Democrats, including Governor John Hickenlooper, support hydraulic fracturing and have come out against the ballot initiatives. Politico posits that because mainstream environmentalists “fear that their movement will suffer a demoralizing defeat if the two proposals make it in front of the voters,” they “hope the ballot initiatives will die instead.”  Additionally, “A decisive referendum on oil and gas production would increase calls for [Hillary] Clinton to explicitly take a side.” She’s previously aligned with 75 and 78 – which could spoil her attempts to attract moderate Republicans she’ll need to win the state.

Despite their drama and declared “victory,” it doesn’t seem that the Colorado anti-fossil fuel crowd has enough signatures, or support, to make it onto the November ballot. They may be loud, but, alas, they are few.

The author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc., and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). She hosts a weekly radio program: America’s Voice for Energy - which expands on the content of her weekly column. Follow her @EnergyRabbit.

Easy pickins

You wouldn’t necessarily think of him as the farmer’s candidate, but Charles Lollar has at least paid a little bit of attention to how environmental factors affect one of Maryland’s top industries. Recall that he spoke at length about the Hudson case in one of his initial campaign stops, and it may not necessarily surprise you that he’s now making hay out of what’s he dubbing the “chicken tax.”

The “Chicken Tax” is another “Rain Tax” moment in Maryland history. Farmers in Maryland should be outraged. Agriculture is the number one economic industry in Maryland. It accounts for $2.3 billion in gross receipts to the economy annually and generates approximately 46,000 jobs. More than half of these jobs are on the Eastern Shore. Why are legislators willing to risk all that?

We need a balanced approach to solving environmental issues in Maryland. Keeping the Bay clean is a regional problem that involves more than controlling agricultural run off from Maryland farms. Sediment from adjacent states, like Pennsylvania, contribute to the pollution. Leadership in Annapolis needs to craft a regional solution to this problem that requires all states that pollute the Bay to “pay their fair share” to keep it clean. We must not allow legislators in Annapolis to “hurt Maryland first” by bankrupting hard-working farmers with a “Chicken Tax” and putting the future of Maryland’s number one economic industry at risk.

Given Lollar’s propensity for shrill populism, I took the liberty of reading the bill in question, Senate Bill 725. (The same bill is in the House of Delegates as House Bill 905, a common Maryland practice.) The Senate bill’s lead sponsor is Richard Madaleno, a Montgomery County senator whose experience with chicken is probably that of seeing it at Whole Foods. (He seems the vegetarian type.)

Basically the bill as proposed, called the Poultry Fair Share Act (PFSA), tries to “achieve” two things: raise money from poultry processors like Perdue, Mountaire, Tyson, etc. at five cents per bird and establish a bankroll to “fund cover crop activities on agricultural lands upon which chicken manure has been applied as fertilizer.” The secondary purpose of the bill is to increase the share of money going into an existing state fund to reimburse owners of failing septic systems who have to replace them with a system with enhanced nitrogen removal – currently that fund shares its proceeds with the cover crop program on a 60/40 basis, with the cover crops getting the 40% share.

Needless to say the local producers are feeling a little put upon, as would anyone subject to a bill arbitrarily deeming that it pay a “fair share.” Madaleno is probably upset because his county has to pay the aforementioned “rain tax” but no Eastern Shore county yet has to (although certain muncipalities in the region already collect such a tax.) Prominently featured on the webpage of the Delmarva Poultry Industry homepage is a series of questions about the PFSA.

So my question is simple, and it applies to any candidate, including Lollar. How many of you will put your money where your mouth is and go testify against the Senate bill when it comes to a hearing on Tuesday, February 25th at 1 p.m.? Certainly these candidates are willing to put themselves out for gun rights and stand against taxation in general, but who is going to face down the environmental lobby in this state and politely (or better yet, impolitely) tell them to do the anatomically impossible and go f–k themselves?

Writing a press release is one thing, but we need activists. Personally I’m tired of seeing the agricultural industry in Maryland – no, wait, the entire rural slice of the state in general, whether it be farmer, resident, or small business – be the featured whipping boy for groups which would just as soon see the non-urban portions of the state revert to their once-wild condition. Yes, that means you, Waterkeepers Alliance, Food and Water Watch, and even certain members of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I’ve only been here a decade, but I spent my teenage years in a rural area and I think we all got along just fine without you because – as they often note – farmers are the original environmentalists. We might not have liked it a whole lot when the wind blew the perfume of the pig farm down the road our way, but it was a small inconvenience for the rural living my parents desired.

I happen to think we can have it all – a great quality of life, economic growth and the jobs it creates, and water quality suitable for the recreational and aquacultural purposes we demand from Chesapeake Bay – without these environmentalists coming in and mucking up the works with overregulation and harsh taxation. Hopefully we can count on all four GOP gubernatorial candidates to stick up for the farmer in this fight.

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