As activists rallied outside his South Philadelphia office to demand a moratorium on fracking today, state Sen. Larry Farnese insisted that such legislation would never pass out of the General Assembly. The call for a moratorium has become a bone of contention between environmental idealists and pragmatists — but Farnese says it's a losing battle.
About 30 activists and constituents rallied at noon today at the busy corner of Broad and Moore streets in front of Farnese’s offices in one of twelve “Independence from Fracking” demonstrations across the state.
Adam Garber of PennEnvironment, one of four groups that organized the rallies, said the groups are targeting lawmakers who have not signed onto a bill announced by Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) in April that would put a moratorium on new fracking permits and drilling at permitted sites where fracking has not yet begun. Ferlo introduced his bill after groups like PennEnvironment gathered 100,000 signatures in favor of a moratorium. Then in June, the state Democratic committee voted 115 to 81 to include a fracking moratorium in their platform. Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) is the most recent of seven senators to sign onto Ferlo’s bill. A group outside of his office in West Chester held a “thank you” rally today.
Farnese says the Democratic committee vote doesn’t reflect the majority of democrats across the state. “We no longer view a moratorium as the battleground,” Farnese says. If Democrats frame the conversation about fracking as “moratorium or nothing,” it would deflate any chance of convincing Republicans to support more regulations on the industry, he says. Farnese points to the state Senate’s bipartisan approval last month of the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act as an example of how both parties need to work together and embrace compromise. (Of course, the Republican-controlled House then stripped Medicaid expansion from the bill before sending it back to the Senate.)
Activists like Garber and Emily Reuman of Food & Water Watch, however, say the only way to protect the health of Pennsylvanians is to ban fracking altogether. Reuman points out that Farnese’s district is bounded by two rivers, both of which she says could be polluted by the natural gas industry. “Natural gas is not a bridge fuel,” she says. “It’s a dead end.”
Still, Farnese, for his part, says he’s working toward greater regulation of the industry. He voted against Act 13, which included a gag order preventing doctors from sharing information about the chemicals in fracking fluids with their patients or other physicians. Farnese has also co-sponsored new legislation which would repeal the gag order, allocate funds for research into the health effects of fracking, and make the results of water tests more accessible to the public.
Activists, though, don't think these proposals do enough. Cameron Kline, Farnese’s communications director, listed the senator’s efforts to increase environmental protection to a group of constituents and activists as they gathered around him on the sidewalk outside Farnese’s office. “The moratorium may be one thing we have to agree to disagree on,” Kline said. Iris Marie Bloom of Protecting Our Waters responded, “But this is the most important thing.”
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