Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak here today.
A month ago, I was an average American citizen begging my government to save my air, my drinking water, and my community from the environmental devastation wrought by the natural gas industry across the country. I wrote dozens of letters to my legislators (receiving very few responses by the way). My husband and I sent several letters to the editors of newspapers and many were printed. We started a blog to compile them and to provide information to others who might be interested in the topic. We tried to parlay the success of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, a group of people just like us living in Luzerne County, into a chapter devoted to natural gas issues in Wyoming and Lackawanna Counties. I wrote, printed, and handed out informational flyers at lakeside communities near my home. And, I posted comments on Facebook and on the Susquehanna County Gas Forum. I admit it, in print, I was very loud… I have been desperate to make my case to you.
Apparently, my voice was loud enough to rouse the attention of my government, but not in the way I had hoped. Instead of my legislators paying attention to what I had to tell them, my government sicced the FBI, the Office of Homeland Security and the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response after me. My government branded me an extremist….or possibly an eco-terrorist. For WRITING a more balanced truth. For WRITING opinions that didn’t sit well with those in power. And now, for exercising my right to free speech, a dossier on me may now be secreted in the halls of Israeli Intelligence for all I know.
Now, on top of it all, I’m told that in concert with these bulletins, the FBI was compiling a list of names of “dissenters”. The FBI is a federal agency…so I ask…is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security now looking at me as a security risk?
For the first time in my life, I do not feel secure in my home. I worry that what I say on the phone is being recorded, I wonder if my emails are still being monitored. I am discomfited. Almost frightened, you might say. And not just because I’ve been spied on…..I feel this way because the very spies hired by my government have been so incompetent they saw me as a threat to the security of the state!…. On the one hand they were spying on me as an extremist; on the other they depicted me as a drilling advocate in their correspondence with Mr. Powers! .If they are so incompetent, then I wonder just how deep this incompetence goes….how many people out there have been told to watch out for me…that I’m a “person of interest?” We know that Marian Schweighofer, executive director of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, had access to the information in those intelligence bulletins… according to one newspaper report, she sent a message to her members telling them “there was reason to believe” that the Office of Homeland Security was ”tracking the anti-drillers” as terrorists. Is this why when some of us have stopped on the shoulder of a road to take a gander at the construction of or operations on a rig the security patrols have flown en masse at us to herd us back into our cars and away from the property? So the question in my mind is not just who was on the distribution list for those bulletins…..The question is: how far did the information in them travel? How many people who have real or potential control over my life…first responders, local government, state government…MY NEIGHBORS …and, of course, the gas companies ….have been put on alert about me? My small town is soon to be surrounded by gas wells….will their security patrols be alerted every time I get in my car? How are you going to erase that alert in people’s minds? This is not an Oops you can fix so easily.
When I received the email from James Powers, my heart nearly stopped. I asked myself first and foremost if I could have inadvertently done something illegal. When I collected myself and really studied that last line of the email, I was absolutely infuriated. Today I can tell you I am so outraged I don’t know what to do with my anger. Here I was, trying desperately to get my government to put some controls on the natural gas industry invasion, and my government was admitting it was in cahoots with that industry.
When I researched the Bravo Group, a lobbyist group cc’ed in the email, I found out that it lobbies for Chief Oil and Gas and several other energy companies. So not only was the Office of Homeland Security providing intelligence to the corporations about Pennsylvania citizens who might object to having their communities overrun by them….it was providing “intelligence” to the very people who lobby YOU, the legislators, on behalf of those companies. To tell you the truth, the incestuous relationship between our government, the gas industry, the Bravo Group, and the Marcellus Shale Coalition is so clear to me I can’t believe it isn’t a top story in every paper in this state. I suspect that every decision made by our government with regard to natural gas regulation is tainted by the industry’s deliberate attempts to blur the boundary line between itself and our government. In Pennsylvania, the natural gas companies think they’re in charge….and I ask my government….ARE THEY?
Senator, I don’t know whether hydraulic fracturing horizontally through the Marcellus Shale can be done safely. Nobody does. What I do know is that currently it ISN”T being done safely. There are hundreds of horror stories of water contamination, animal deaths, air pollution, people sick….many of which you as legislators have been carefully shielded from knowing about by the Bravo Group and the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Your position insulates you from “we the people” – you are making decisions about the future of Pennsylvania with only half the story in front of you. I hope to God this incident has shown you just how insulated you are…The lobbyists in question have made sure you haven’t learned the truth…just as they have tried to keep alleged “extremists” like me from telling you that truth.
I hope my legislators take a step back and ask tough questions and start reading between the lines when they’re presented with industry-spun facts. Ask just how many non-disclosure agreements Oil & Gas has with individuals in our state. Ask how many massive trucks will play chicken with Pennsylvania’s children’s school buses everyday. Ask whether hunters who come to Pennsylvania will be able to eat what they kill since the well pads aren’t fenced and wildlife will drink from the salty wastewater pits. Ask whether the citizens ….the majority of citizens…..in many parts of this state want their small town ways of life turned upside down?
Now, about James Powers. I’ve been listening to and reading about how this man should be fired. I even stood with a group on the steps of this building last week where some of the speakers were calling for that firing – I stood there because the group’s opposition to forced pooling – another assault on our constitutional rights — was more important to me than worrying about Mr. Powers’ future…..But after the rally, I took the leader of that group aside and told him I didn’t agree with him about what to do about our homeland security director. I tell you now what I tried to tell him – I honestly don’t know if firing James Powers is the right thing to do.
You see, in this country, we have an awful habit of making a fall guy out of the guy who was just doing his job. I’m reminded of what our nation did to Lt. Col. Oliver North during the Iran-Contra affair.
Mr. Powers is an Army veteran…and since he and I were both commissioned to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, I like to think that perhaps Mr. Powers fought bravely to protect our citizens’ first amendment rights and argued with the powers that be – the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Governor – about how spying on US citizens exercising their rights to free speech and assembly was not the way to go. I like to think he was simply overruled. As far as I’m concerned, he should be given some benefit of the doubt here – he wasn’t necessarily the one with the ultimate authority over hiring ITRR – and I would HATE to give the oil and gas industry another win by sacrificing the due process rights Mr. Powers deserves as an American citizen.
Then again, maybe after all this, I am still hopefully naïve.
Finally, let me conclude with this:
Throughout history we have seen countries seduced all too easily by slick persuaders who’ve played on people’s economic desperation. Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, pre-World War II Italy. There, the hearts and minds of the people were captured by those who painted rosy pictures of the future while concealing a terrible dark side. There they smothered the people’s rights to speak and write freely to expose that dark side. There they destroyed reputations and shuffled dissenters off to where they couldn’t cause the government any trouble. Like jail. Like Siberia.
So, I am very grateful to this investigative body for its recognition of just how dangerous Pennsylvania’s attempts to suppress dissenters’ rights had become. The very fact that we are here today tells me our country has not become a fascist state….that we still live in America.
Senator Baker… I applaud your efforts to get to the bottom of this debacle. Go get ‘em.