Ever since President Obama was elected back in 2008, the right-wing of the Republican Party has been trying everything it can to “delegitimize” his administration. This attempt has taken many forms. With the rise of the Tea Party, one tactic that has gained favor is ignoring federal laws that do not sit well with the right. Meaning, if a state is controlled by the right-wing, they can simply ignore laws in their state that the Federal Government has passed.
We remember sheriffs saying they would not enforce new gun regulations. Some states even passed laws that would have sheriffs arrest Federal Agents enforcing Federal Law that they state says they don’t recognize. All of this in the name of liberty and states rights. Of course it was all nonsense and Texas in the proving ground for this hypocrisy.
In the last election in November, voters in Denton, Texas voted to ban fracking in their community. The state that calls itself the oil capital now has a community that has banned fracking. That must be a real black-eye for Texas and their right-wing state legislature.
But since Texas is the loudest proponent of ignoring Federal Law when it suits their purpose, the Denton law must be upheld, right? Wrong! Texas isn’t going to take this lying down. Texas Railroad Commission chairwoman Christi Craddick, who is responsible for oil and gas regulation said: “It’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s … We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job.”
Then we have Jerry Patterson, commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, who wrote a letter saying, “While we applaud the city’s efforts to promote the welfare of its citizens, we must make sure it is done in a manner consistent with existing state laws … the Legislature has made regulation of underground mineral estates and the methods for producing them a matter of State agency regulation.”
In the vote, the anti-fracking law passed by 59-41 percent. That is what most people call a landslide. But, the Republican Party, you know the party that says the state is the perennial foe of everything right-wing people believe in, claims that the people in Denton have no right to such a declaration because the state is the only entity with a say-so in the matter.
The odd thing is that the State of Texas has been in perpetual conflict with the Federal Government saying the Feds don’t have the right to tell a state what to do. These conflicts have been over voting laws, healthcare and, particularly, environmental regulations. In 2013, former Texas attorney general and current Gov.-elect Greg Abbott boasted that he sued the Obama administration 25 times for perceived overreaches.
In Texas as well as many other states, they argue that their ban on same-sex marriages is legal because it was passed by a ballot initiative. Since the people voted for the ban, it is legal and the Federal Government should keep its nose out of the state’s business. When courts overturned these bans, the states called it government overreach. Now these same anti-Big Government Republicans are using the State’s Big Government to stomp over the voters of Denton, Texas.
This vote was not something out of the blue either. There are 272 active wells in the city and another 212 just outside the city limits, so Denton residents ought to know as much as anyone about fracking. As a result, they voted to ban fracking in their community.
But see, according to the State of Texas, these citizens were “duped”. David Porter, another leading member of the Texas Railroad Commission suggests, “Denton voters fell prey to scare tactics and mischaracterizations of the truth in passing the hydraulic fracturing ban.” Mr. Porter sounds more like a PR man for the oil industry rather than a public servant.
This misinformation must have been pretty good. You see, the main opponents of the ban, energy giants Chevron, Chesapeake Energy and XTO Energy (a subsidiary of Exxon), outspent the pro-ban group, Frack Free Denton, by almost 10-to-1 and still lost. Either the message from Frack Free Denton was really good, or the people didn’t believe the oil companies. I am guessing they just didn’t believe the oil companies.
As you know, fracking is the process of shooting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the earth to jostle natural gas loose from shale formations. This process has proven to be the cause of numerous environmental problems including air and water pollution.
The bevy of chemicals used in fracking and their health effects are just beginning to be documented. On top of that, many states have laws that says the chemicals used in fracking is “propriety information” and therefore can be kept secret from the public. Additionally, places where there has been heavy fracking are experiencing earthquake outbreaks that never occurred before. Finally, property values around fracking sites have plummeted. So the people in Denton, Texas has said enough is enough.
Commissioner Craddick defended frackers, saying, “Most of them are active in their communities where they’re doing business and trying to give some dollars back.” That is so weak of an argument it is almost laughable. Even Craddick admits that Denton residents don’t own the minerals underneath their homes and town, so we know they aren’t getting any money directly from their extraction.
Adam Briggle, a University of North Texas assistant professor specializing in bioethics and a leader in Frack Free Denton, says that economic benefits from fracking has very little effect on Denton. As a matter of fact, he says: “Royalties paid to the City of Denton account for less than 1 percent of the city budget. Taxes from wells amount to only about 0.5 percent of all city property tax revenues. The biggest beneficiaries from fracking in Denton are out-of-town companies and absentee mineral owners.”
As you can see, the cry from conservatives against “big government” isn’t a fight against big government at all. It is really a cry against democracy. Here is a town in a state that cries all of the time against “big government” being swatted down by “big government”. Why? Because they had the audacity to vote that their town is more important than out-of-town companies making money by polluting its environment.
Next time your conservative friends talk about the loss of “freedom” and “liberty”, ask them about the people in Denton who tried to express their “freedom” and “liberty” and was stomped on by the State of Texas. I am sure they will give the same lame excuses as Craddick has given. To conservatives it isn’t about “freedom” or “liberty”, it is all about how much money their benefactors make on the backs of the “little” people. That is their true definition of “freedom and liberty.”