Darrell Issa

John Boehner's House -- The Future of the Senate?

Look no further than John Boehner’s House of Representatives (really run by the Tea Party) for a crystal clear view of what we’ll get in the Senate if the GOP wins in November and takes full control of Congress.
PFAW

Questionable Ethics In Issa'a Zeal to Score Political Points

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been targeting the Obama administration since his earliest days as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and recently he’s been waging a political witch hunt against Attorney General Eric Holder surrounding the Fast and Furious gunrunning operation. In the course of the investigation, Rep. Issa requested documents which the AG was prohibited by law from releasing, and for that, Rep. Issa successfully campaigned to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed an ethics complaint with both the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Department of Justice, alleging that in his zeal to embarrass the Obama Administration, Rep. Issa may in fact have violated House ethics rules as well as federal wiretap laws.

According to CREW:

Rather than releasing the warrant application to the media directly, which would clearly have been prosecutable, Rep. Issa inserted the information into the Congressional Record. This way, he shielded his otherwise illegal conduct behind the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution. Evidence also suggests Rep. Issa or his staff may have directed reporters to the Congressional Record to ensure the information contained in the leaked warrant application was discovered and further publicized. Such actions, which could constitute “republication” of the material, might not be subject to the same constitutional protections.

CREW also argues that there is precedent for holding Rep. Issa accountable for his potential violation of the wiretap statute, and that a refusal to do so would bring even more discredit to the House leadership than Rep. Issa’s botched and politically-motivated Fast and Furious investigation already has.

PFAW

New Reporting Guts Central GOP Arguments Involving ‘Fast and Furious’ Operation

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, prompting a walkout of 108 Democrats who wanted to make clear that the vote was a baseless political stunt aimed at tarnishing the Attorney General and the Obama Administration.

But a bombshell new report released on Wednesday, June 27th makes perfectly clear how hollow attacks on Holder’s handling of the “Fast and Furious” program really are. Investigative reporter Katherine Eban, writing for Fortune Magazine, recounts in exhaustive detail how the scandal unfurled into a political circus, in a tale of “rivalry, murder, and political bloodlust.”

Eban reports how a key player in the botched operation, former Marine David Voth, fell victim to a swirl of false accusations by disgruntled former-ATF agents with ulterior motives.

“Indeed, a six-month Fortune investigation reveals that the public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA 49), Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has been in pursuit of additional documents pertaining to Fast and Furious, in addition to floating dubious conspiracy theories regarding the operation. Eban notes how the increased scrutiny of the ATF has made it more difficult for the agency to execute one of its core missions: arrest and prosecute the people who traffic illegal guns.

“Issa's claim that the ATF is using the Fast and Furious scandal to limit gun rights seems, to put it charitably, far-fetched. Meanwhile, Issa and other lawmakers say they want ATF to stanch the deadly tide of guns, widely implicated in the killing of 47,000 Mexicans in the drug-war violence of the past five years. But the public bludgeoning of the ATF has had the opposite effect. From 2010, when Congress began investigating, to 2011, gun seizures by Group VII and the ATF's three other groups in Phoenix dropped by more than 90%.”

Eban’s reporting unearthed absolutely no evidence that the tactic of “gun walking”, which Rep. Issa and his allies continue to put front and center, was ever actually in play. “The ATF's accusers seem untroubled by evidence that the policy they have pilloried didn't actually exist”.

Predicated upon erroneous and misleading information, the Fast and Furious ‘scandal’ is heavy on political intrigue, yet light on substance.

PFAW

Contempt: Republican Witch-Hunt Makes History

On Thursday, President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. The blatantly political move by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was the culmination of a multiyear plan by right-wing activists and politicians to undermine the nation’s top law enforcement official. Let’s recall how we got here. 

Attorney General Holder has had a target on his back from day one. He has played a key role in, among other things, defending voting rights for all Americans and advancing equal rights for gays and lesbians – things that the right wing vehemently opposes. In the case of the Fast and Furious program, which Holder’s opponents used to find him in contempt, he was the person who shut it down:
The problem of gunwalking was a field-driven tactic that dated back to the George W. Bush Administration, and it was this Administration’s Attorney General who ended it. Attorney General Holder has said repeatedly that fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – is a top priority of the Department. Eric Holder has been an excellent Attorney General and just yesterday the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee acknowledged that he had no evidence – or even the suspicion – that the Attorney General knew of the misguided tactics used in this operation.

Incredibly, the very same politicians who condemned Holder were supportive when President Bush asserted executive privilege in an unprecedented and expansive way to conceal potentially illegal activity by government employees. On the other hand, Holder and the Obama administration have gone to great lengths to accommodate the often unreasonable demands of Republicans in Congress:

Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated Congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven Congressional hearings. In an act of good faith, this week the Administration made an additional offer which would have resulted in the Committee getting unprecedented access to documents dispelling any notion of an intent to mislead.

Holder and the Obama administration only asserted executive privilege when Republicans demanded documents that would put the agents fighting gun violence at risk. This is yet another irony.

As Right Wing Watch reported, Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee and Holder’s chief inquisitor, has been pushing a conspiracy theory for months that Obama and Holder intentionally allowed gun-smuggling to Mexico in order to boost violence and use it as the justification for an assault weapons ban here. It’s such a completely unhinged and baseless argument that it’s hard to take seriously. But Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, the NRA and even elected officials like Issa have aggressively pushed this lie and whipped their base into fever pitch.

While Holder is taking it on the chin for protecting agents working to keep us safe, the right wing is saying that the Obama administration intentionally let people, including an American border patrol agent, get killed as part of some gun control conspiracy. In reality, Mexico is awash with American guns. And the right-wing created the extremely lax gun control system that makes it possible.

In the Republican House of Representatives, where up is often down and black is white, the people working to prevent gun violence are smeared as having blood on their hands. That’s why Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rightly called the contempt vote a “heinous act” and “unprincipled.” Sadly, a full 17 House Democrats were successfully pressured by the NRA to part ways with Pelosi and condemn Holder.

It’s clear now, if it wasn’t already, that we’re up against people who will say just about anything to win. We should expect more nonsense heading into the election. But ultimately the best way to beat back their lies is going to the ballot box.

 

PFAW

PFAW Condemns Partisan Witch Hunt Against Holder

This afternoon, the Republican led House of Representatives approved a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder as part of the GOP’s ongoing attacks against the Attorney General and his office.

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement.

“It’s been clear since day one of the Obama Administration that Republicans have chosen to put politics above principle in their efforts to attack the President at every turn, regardless of the facts or the needs of the American people. This move is no different. Attorney General Holder has been completely forthcoming about the problems in the Fast and Furious program, but that’s never been the issue. Instead Republicans are still looking for any excuse to tarnish this President.

“The more time Attorney General Holder is forced to spend on this manufactured crisis, the less time he and his team have to address the real challenges our country faces, including his efforts challenging restrictive voter suppression programs. Given Republicans’ eagerness to attack the Obama Administration at any cost, Eric Holder should wear today’s vote as a badge of honor. Clearly, he’s doing something right.”

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Issa Peddled Conspiracy Theory at NRA Convention, Called Fast and Furious an Attack on the 2nd Amendment (VIDEO)

The Republican committee chair leading the partisan witch hunt against Attorney General Eric Holder shows willingness to play up fringe conspiracy theories.

PFAW Condemns House Oversight Committee’s Political Witch Hunt

WASHINGTON – People For the American Way issued the following statement following the party line vote by the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee engineered by Committee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. The Committee acted despite the Attorney General’s extensive efforts over the past several months to provide the Committee with the information it needed to conduct its investigation into Operation Fast and Furious.

“This is nothing more than a political witch hunt, perhaps best exemplified by the announcement of the NRA – which bizarrely sees the ‘Fast and Furious’ program as an effort to justify domestic gun control laws – that it would ‘score’ this contempt vote.” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “To be sure, Congress has a legitimate interest in investigating Operation Fast and Furious, but Chairman Issa and Republican majority on the Committee appear to be more interested in scoring political points than in getting to the bottom of what happened.

“The hoops the Committee is demanding the Attorney General jump through illustrate that these contempt hearings are as partisan as they are extreme. Over the course of this ‘investigation,’ the Committee has ordered the A.G. to produce documents whose confidentiality is protected by federal law, has refused to subpoena Bush Administration officials to testify about their knowledge of the operation during their time in office, has refused to allow public testimony from officials whose testimony counters Issa’s partisan narrative, and has repeatedly rejected the A.G.’s efforts to accommodate the committee, making compliance all but impossible.

“Attorney General Holder should be commended for the courageous steps he has taken to bolster civil rights and liberties in this country. Unfortunately, these Oversight Committee hearings do nothing but distract from those critically important efforts and undermine the Justice Department’s essential function – to enforce the rule of law.”

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Issa Stacks Hearing to Attack Contraception Compromise

Rep. Darrell Issa, who has followed through on his threat to turn his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform into an attack dog on the Obama administration, today held a one-sided hearing attacking as a threat to religious liberty the administration’s recent compromise on health care regulations requiring insurers to cover contraception.

Not present at the hearing was a representative of the Catholic Health Association, which has embraced the administration’s compromise. When asked about the CHA’s position, Bishop William Lori, head of the Catholic bishops’ new “religious liberty” task force, said archly that the CHA doesn’t speak for the church as a whole – the bishops do. But polls show that the bishops actually speak for a small minority of American Catholics on these issues.
 
Issa – who had no concerns about separation of church and state when he was pushing for federal funding for religious school vouchers in the District of Columbia – labeled his stacked hearing “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” It was striking for some of us who are accustomed to hearing conservative politicians and Religious Right figures denouncing the separation of church and state, and dismissing the letter in which Thomas Jefferson used the phrase, to hear Issa and his colleagues vigorously endorsing the concept – or at least the rhetoric – and invoking Jefferson.
 
Issa and fellow Republicans used the “religious liberty” frame as an excuse to prevent testimony from women affected by the lack of insurance coverage of contraceptives, which also serve as treatment for a variety of medical conditions.  Rep. Rosa DeLauro (one of several Catholic Democrats who attended the heargin) and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, forcefully raised the issue of women’s health, only to be told that access to health care was not the topic of the hearing. DeLauro drew a distinction between religious organizations as service providers – Catholic hospitals are not required to perform abortions, for example – and as employers. Nothing in the First Amendment, she said, says that religiously affiliated employers aren’t subject to same rules as every other employer. Republicans on the committee embraced the goalpost-moving standard staked out recently by the bishops, which is that not only should religiously affiliated organizations be exempt, but that any business owner should be able to cite religious beliefs as reason not to provide his employees with coverage.
 
The hearing made it clear that the GOP has decided to aggressively pursue their election year strategy of portraying Obama as an enemy of religious liberty.  There was no rhetorical “bridge too far” at this hearing – it was suggested that the Obama administration was a few keystrokes away from completely eliminating religious freedom, and that it was using government coercion to force churches to change their religious doctrine. Even Joseph Stalin was invoked. GOP members of Congress encouraged panelists to portray themselves as willing martyrs to religious liberty – and panelists complied, with some saying they would be willing to go to jail rather than side with government over God. 
 
It’s worth remembering with all the rhetoric about the end of freedom in America that the compromise plan would not require religious groups to provide or pay for coverage: insurance companies would contact employees directly, offer coverage to those who want it, and pick up the tab.
 
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, also Catholic, said he had had concerns with the original rules and believes the compromise addressed religious liberty concerns. He denounced Issa’s hearing as a “sham” and a “shameful exercise.”  He scoffed at the going-to-jail rhetoric and told panelists they were being used, wittingly or not, as part of an anti-Obama political agenda.  

Issa Stacks Hearing to Attack Contraception Compromise

Rep. Darrell Issa, who has followed through on his threat to turn his Committee on Oversight and Government Reform into an attack dog on the Obama administration, today held a one-sided hearing attacking as a threat to religious liberty the administration’s recent compromise on health care regulations requiring insurers to cover contraception.

Not present at the hearing was a representative of the Catholic Health Association, which has embraced the administration’s compromise. When asked about the CHA’s position, Bishop William Lori, head of the Catholic bishops’ new “religious liberty” task force, said archly that the CHA doesn’t speak for the church as a whole – the bishops do. But polls show that the bishops actually speak for a small minority of American Catholics on these issues.
 
Issa – who had no concerns about separation of church and state when he was pushing for federal funding for religious school vouchers in the District of Columbia – labeled his stacked hearing “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” It was striking for some of us who are accustomed to hearing conservative politicians and Religious Right figures denouncing the separation of church and state, and dismissing the letter in which Thomas Jefferson used the phrase, to hear Issa and his colleagues vigorously endorsing the concept – or at least the rhetoric – and invoking Jefferson.
 
Issa and fellow Republicans used the “religious liberty” frame as an excuse to prevent testimony from women affected by the lack of insurance coverage of contraceptives, which also serve as treatment for a variety of medical conditions.  Rep. Rosa DeLauro (one of several Catholic Democrats who attended the heargin) and several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, forcefully raised the issue of women’s health, only to be told that access to health care was not the topic of the hearing. DeLauro drew a distinction between religious organizations as service providers – Catholic hospitals are not required to perform abortions, for example – and as employers. Nothing in the First Amendment, she said, says that religiously affiliated employers aren’t subject to same rules as every other employer. Republicans on the committee embraced the goalpost-moving standard staked out recently by the bishops, which is that not only should religiously affiliated organizations be exempt, but that any business owner should be able to cite religious beliefs as reason not to provide his employees with coverage.
 
The hearing made it clear that the GOP has decided to aggressively pursue their election year strategy of portraying Obama as an enemy of religious liberty.  There was no rhetorical “bridge too far” at this hearing – it was suggested that the Obama administration was a few keystrokes away from completely eliminating religious freedom, and that it was using government coercion to force churches to change their religious doctrine. Even Joseph Stalin was invoked. GOP members of Congress encouraged panelists to portray themselves as willing martyrs to religious liberty – and panelists complied, with some saying they would be willing to go to jail rather than side with government over God. 
 
It’s worth remembering with all the rhetoric about the end of freedom in America that the compromise plan would not require religious groups to provide or pay for coverage: insurance companies would contact employees directly, offer coverage to those who want it, and pick up the tab.
 
Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly, also Catholic, said he had had concerns with the original rules and believes the compromise addressed religious liberty concerns. He denounced Issa’s hearing as a “sham” and a “shameful exercise.”  He scoffed at the going-to-jail rhetoric and told panelists they were being used, wittingly or not, as part of an anti-Obama political agenda.  

Issa Attacks Transparency for Contractors, Ignores Waste and Abuse

Tomorrow, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Committee on Small Business will hold a joint hearing investigating the White House’s reported consideration of an executive order that would take a step toward addressing the corrupting influence of unlimited and undisclosed corporate spending on elections. The executive order under consideration would require government contractors to disclose their political contributions, as well as those of their senior management and affiliated political action committees.

Transcript of PFAW's Teleconference on Hydrofracking

Yesterday, People For hosted a conference call with a panel of experts on Hydraulic Fracturing, or “fracking.” The call focused not only on the dangers of this controversial technique for harvesting natural gas, but also presented an analysis of the special-interest money that is influencing the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, which is holding a hearing today in Bakersfield, California, to discuss fracking regulations.

Audio and text of the conference call are posted below.

Transcript

Marge Baker:

Welcome to our call. I'm Marge Baker of People for the American Way.

Tomorrow the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a field hearing in Bakersfield, California entitled "Pathways to Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing and Other New Technologies." Although these field hearings are often overlooked I think this instance is Exhibit A in how representative Darrell Issa is using his chairmanship of the Oversight Committee to ignore the health and welfare of millions of Americans in order to push the anti-regulation, anti-accountability agenda of his and his party's corporate donors and supporters.

Thanks to fracking there are now homes in America in which water coming out of the sink can be set on fire. Congressman Issa's response to this isn't to figure out how to protect people from the potential effects of fracking but to hold a pep rally for oil and gas companies. The question is who does government work for? Does it protect the health and safety of ordinary families? Or does it cater to the interests of powerful, well-connected corporate interests?

On today's call we're joined by Joanne Spalding from the Sierra Club, Deborah Rogers, a small business owner and steering committee member of Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Bill Allayaud from the Environmental Working Group, Sarah Callahan from the Courage Campaign, and Mark McLeod from the Sustainable Business Alliance and the American Sustainable Business Council. Each of our speakers will make some short introductory remarks and then will go to questions that will be moderated by our operator.

So Joanne let's start with you. Can you give us a short introduction to fracking and its potential dangers?

Joanne Spalding:

Sure. Fracking's actually a process that has been used for years in both natural gas and oil production. But because of the boom in shale gas that has occurred throughout the country that's brought this method of natural gas production to many areas of the country that haven't previously experienced impacts from natural gas production.

So the way the process works is that wells are drilled into a formation and it can be -- there's usually like a vertical part of the well and then it can go horizontally through the formation, if it's in the case of a shale formation. And once the well is drilled fluids are injected that include water and sand, but also assorted chemicals. And they're injected down into the hole to fracture the shale formation and then that that releases the gas in the formation and the gas flows up.

Natural gas production overall and fracking in particular cause a host of environmental concerns. They pose a risk of water contamination, both from handling of chemicals on the surface, and spills to surface waters, but they also pose a risk because of chemicals being injected into these formations and because there are naturally-occurring chemicals in the formations themselves and other contaminants that can come up through the well and through the pathway created by the well so that there's a risk that toxics can migrate, the gas itself can migrate.

The wells produce a great deal of water and that produced water contains these contaminants from the formation and from the original fracking fluids. And so handling of that produced water can also create environmental concerns. And in addition there are -- because these gas fields are dispersed over a large area and there are wells -- there can be wells over that large area spaced very closely together connected by various roads and there's a lot of heavy duty industrial equipments that are brought into these areas.

They can create a lot of air pollution problems because the equipment itself releases air pollutants, and it's spread out over a very large area. So Wyoming, for instance, is having ozone problems because of all the natural gas production there. So there are a whole host of environmental concerns; that's not all of them, it's just a few of them that are related to the natural gas production itself and fracking in particular.

Marge Baker:

Okay, that's a really helpful and concise sort of technical explanation; let me turn now to Deborah. You've been affected personally by fracking; could you talk a bit about your experiences with this?

Deborah Rogers:

Sure. Good afternoon. I'm Deborah Rogers. I'm an artisanal cheese maker and small business owner and a resident of the Barnett Shale, in Texas. I feel that I'm uniquely qualified to address these questions, since I was the first in North Texas to conduct air testing for emissions during drilling operations. Chesapeake Energy planned 12 high impact wells only feet from my property line. It's well-known now that air toxics can deposit on pastures and be taken up by ruminants and magnified through the food chain. So I went to them and asked them if they would work with me to insure that emissions from their operations would not adversely impact my dairy business. Chesapeake flatly refused.

I had no choice at that time but to conduct extensive baseline testing, and the day I scheduled that air test Chesapeake began flaring a well on the other side of the farm. When I received the tests back there were very high levels of toxics, including benzene and other v-tex constituents and sulfur compounds, including carbon disulfide. The carbon disulfide was approximately 300 times higher than what is considered normal for ambient urban air.

Since that time numerous tests have been conducted both at my farm and other areas around North Texas during drilling operations confirming beyond a shadow of a doubt that such operations due contribute substantially to hazardous air toxics. We hear a great deal about fracking and drilling but all too often it's a bit misleading.

For instance, we all have heard that fracking is a process which has been around for about 60 years and it's been used on hundreds of thousands of wells. This is only partially true. While fracking has been used for a long time hydro fracking using horizontal drill bores has not.

Mitchell Energy began using them in the Barnett only ten years ago. No one knows for certain the migration paths of the water and the compounds injected because horizontal fracking, which is a new technology, creates different patterns and stresses than vertical fracks, which were the type of fracks that were used in the past and are still used occasionally now.

Further we hear only about water contamination and water usage, primarily, when people speak of fracking. Unfortunately air contamination is also an issue due to the massive diesel engines and the compounds used. Further, some compounds used during fracking are not only highly toxic, as the speaker before me just mentioned, but they can transform into even more toxics compounds once they combine with heavy metals and NORM, which is naturally-occurring radioactive material deep within the earth. These toxics are then returned to the surface and can cause environment problems if not disposed of properly.

In late 2009 two municipal water wells just outside of Fort Worth, which had been in operation since the '70s and tests it each year were shut down due to contamination of NORM. These wells had been tested and were found to be normal in 2008. Then four shale gas wells were drilled about four months later, and suddenly the wells were retested and found to contain high levels of radium, a known byproduct of gas drilling. Unfortunately, being Texas the gas wells were not shut in but the water wells were.

Air toxics from drilling operations have also -- are also known to be hazardous. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality concluded in its final report on the Barnett Shale that gas production facilities can and in some cases do emit air contaminants in amounts that can be deemed unsafe, and that is a quote.

Interestingly enough we had a study done by Southern Methodist University in 2009 which concluded that gas drilling in the Barnett Shale was contributing more ozone than all the cars, trucks and airplanes combined in the D-FW area. This was recently confirmed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Formaldehyde, known as a powerful precursor to ozone, was tested during an industry study last year in ranges from 69 parts per billion to 127 parts per billion. Industry, since these findings came out of their study, found themselves in a very embarrassing public relations position, and quickly attributed the formaldehyde to vehicular traffic. There was just one problem: the maximum two-hour roadside concentrations observed ever in the U.S. is only 17 parts per billion, well below the 127 parts found near the natural gas compressor station.

To really put things into perspective: the maximum concentration of formaldehyde in the Houston ship channel, which as we all know is one of the most egregiously-polluted places on Earth, has only been 52 parts per billion, again, less than half of the level that industry detected near its own natural gas compressor station, which by the way also happens to be in the neighborhood. The Houston Advanced Research Groups’ Dr. Jay Olaguer stated in hearings before EPA that after reviewing this data emissions of and human exposure to formaldehyde due to oil and gas exploration and production may be underestimated in the Barnett Shale. In conclusion, there are many unanswered questions with regard to environmental impacts of gas drilling and fracking in particular.

The Barnett Shale has the longest production history and certainly should be scrutinized as a model with regard to the very problems encountered with shale gas drilling. Until such questions can be answered with a relative degree of security, fracking should be allowed only under circumstances of the highest scrutiny. Chemicals should always be disclosed and ongoing monitoring should be imposed for the life of the well. Thank you.

Marge Baker:

Deborah, thank you. So we've heard a little bit about what Deborah's experienced first-hand in Texas. Bill, could you give us a little bit of a sense of what's going on in California on this issue?

Bill Allayaud:

Sure. Well thanks for your interest in this. Our interest was obviously in the subcommittee that's going to be holding the hearing Friday in Bakersfield. It's clearly a stacked witness list and looks like it's going to be kind of a cheering group for, "We need more fracking, we need more oil and gas production." I want to make it clear that Environmental Working Group is not taking a position on shall we drill for oil and gas in this country or anywhere else; we just want to make sure that it's done in a safe manner and that there's public disclosure of the potential impacts. And then things that go wrong should be disclosed.

First I think we came to this issue last year as we've been working on it nationally, and we wondered, "Well, is there fracking going on in California?" We have not heard much, and when we first started to look it appeared not really. And we contact our division of oil and gas overseas, oil and gas drilling in the state. They said, "Not really. One reason gas is too cheap, so they don't do that here," ignoring the fact that you frack for oil too. Second they said it's easy to get the gas out of the ground here; we're not the Marcellus Shale. Third is we don't see much water being used in these fracking wells so therefore they aren't being fracked. And last, we just need to go vertical drilling, not horizontal, which is the classic fracking you see in Texas, Colorado, back East.

So we looked deeper and we found out that indeed fracking has occurred in California for over 50 years. Wells have been fracked in Los Angeles, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Monterey County, and all over Curran County. And we started sorting through industry papers and found such interesting facts as there have been well casing failures on fracked wells, that they do drill considerable distances horizontally. They are fracking in low permeability formations like the Marcellus Shale, they just have different names. And last we saw that there have -- like at Curran County there's been massive fracking according to the industry, and in fact the world's record for fracking was set in Curran County at the time in 1994.

So we tried to talk to the Division of Oil and Gas about this; they haven't been very cooperative or forthcoming, and we just noted that last week, after our first hearing on our bill, Assembly Bill AB 591, they removed their relevant web pages about fracking. And then said, "Oh, it was coincidental; we were going to remove those anyway." That's their story and they're sticking by it. But we think their web pages were confusing and just making the issue muddy, basically saying, "We don't do much here."

So we have AB 591 sponsored by Environmental Working Group and co-sponsored by Earthworks, with assembly member Ben Wakowski of the East Bay area. It would do five things; it would say, "Disclose your water use, where you get it, how much, disclose if you're injecting any radiologic elements as tracers and what happened to them. If you're near any active seismic faults, as we found in Arkansas and other states, that fracking can cause earthquakes. And most importantly, really, is what chemicals are you injecting? And we want to know what they are, the composition, the formulation, and lastly are you injecting any Proposition 65 chemicals?" So those familiar with California law these are those that cause cancer or reproductive harm. We think neighbors ought to be notified that if you're going to inject these chemicals and the industry says they're widely used you should know that. So if something shows up in your water you will know where it came from.

Last I would point out that the movie Gas Land was a revelation for a lot of people. We don't see those kind of incidents here yet; they may be, though, because occurring -- Division of Oil and Gas really can't tell us how many wells have been fracked, where they're being fracked, what chemicals are being used. There may be stuff going on out there we don't know about but more importantly as the industry gets more and more interested in fracking in California such as in the Monterey Shale formation which covers 13 counties in the central and coastal areas, we need to get ahead of the curve so that we're adequately regulating this type of drilling and oil and gas recovery, and California protecting the public interest, our natural resources, and there's transparency in the process. Thank you.

Marge Baker:

Bill, thank you so much. So Sarah, Bill alluded to the -- at the beginning of his comments about sort of the stacked witness list that we're expecting tomorrow. Could you talk a little bit about the money trail here? How much of what we'll hear at tomorrow's hearings will be coming from individuals and companies that have contributed to Chairman Issa and others on the Oversight Committee?

Sarah Callahan:

Absolutely. This is Sarah Callahan from the Courage Campaign and the Courage Campaign is a national accountability project called Issa Watch, which is designed to hold Chairman Issa accountable for his record, his rhetoric and performance as the House Oversight Committee chairman.

As soon as he took control of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa asked leading oil and drilling trade groups to recommend an agenda for his committee. Issa personally collected tens of thousands of dollars from oil companies with a direct interest in streamlining drilling standards, and the witnesses he's chosen represent oil interests who have spent millions on repealing environmental regulations at the ballot box last year, more specifically in Prop 23 here in California.

And just two weeks after fracking caused a major chemical spill in California Darrell Issa's using his perch at the helm of the Oversight Committee to really provide them a press conference on the taxpayers' dime.

His handpicked witness list includes a sort of who's who of spokespeople for the interest of big oil. The CEO of Devon Energy has contributed nearly $400,000 in personal donations in support of Republican candidates and interests, which also includes major funding in the Independent Petroleum Association of America, and IPAA responded specifically to Issa's solicitation for hearing recommendations with a request to explore streamlined drilling operations and relaxed EPA standards.

Issa has also called a representative from Westminster Petroleum Association, which kind of represents a who's who of largest oil companies in the world and combined member corporations have directly funded Issa with nearly $80,000 in campaign funds, and -- but more than $6 million attempting to suspend AB 32 Environmental Protections, which was Prop 23 on the November ballot.

Finally Issa called representative of the California Independent Petroleum Association which spent more than $200,000 in 2010 supporting Republican candidates in California. And he's done all of this hand-in-hand with House Republican whip Kevin McCarthy, who banked more than $100,000 personally from the energy and natural resources sector just in 2010. And this is really their opportunity to be able to showcase the industry and move forward to expand technologies like fracking at their behalf.

And tomorrow the Courage Campaign will be providing a petition, delivering a petition with thousands and thousands and thousands of Californians and constituents in this district would like them to focus more on the real problems of everyday folks and not doing the bidding of the oil and gas industry.

Marge Baker:

Sarah, thank you so much. So Mark, last but certainly not least. Sarah's given us an idea of who we'll be hearing from tomorrow and my guess is what we'll be hearing from those folks is that any regulation of fracking is bad for business. As a businessperson yourself what's your take on that flat out rejection of any kind of regulation?

Mark McLeod:

Well I am -- have been charged on this call with talking about businesses and business networks which take a very, very different position on this than Daryl Issa. The two organizations for which I'm speaking today are Business Alliance, which is in East Bay, in California, across from San Francisco -- East Bay Alliance of businesses that are focused on not just the single financial bottom line but on the triple bottom line, which is the three bottom lines are the environmental bottom line, social justice bottom line and the financial bottom line.

And in addition I am representing the American Sustainable Business Council, which also embraces those triple bottom line, and which is a Washington, DC-focused organization which identifies public policy that's being debated in Washington, DC, identifies those pieces of legislation which have a significant impact, have a triple bottom line focus, and which then tries to do effective lobbying on those groups. The organizations that I represent are focused on the bottom line, and another way of looking at that triple bottom line is three key words, they're focused on people, they're focused on planet, and they're focused on profit, the three Ps.

Because these businesses have their orientation, they support, very strongly support the Environmental Protection Agency's playing a strong regulatory role relative to hydrological fracturing, which is also known as hydrofracking.

The EPA’s charge, since passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, well over 35 years now, has been, quote, "To protect public health, adding injection wells, emanating underground sources drinking water.

In Urbana, or EEN Urbena, an article published a couple of weeks ago in The New York Times on April 16th explains why it is important for the EPA to play a strong role regulating hydrofracking. It makes two very significant assertions. One: 14 of the nation's most active hydraulic fracturing companies use 866 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products, and this is the topper: not including water. So that's 866 million gallons of the hydraulic fracturing products.

Of those 866 million gallons two thirds contain chemicals which are known or possible human carcinogens regulated under the Safe Water Drinking Act. A prime example of such a carcinogen, which is used in great quantity in these hydraulic fracturing products is benzene, a long-identified carcinogen.

Companies which honor the triple bottom line do not favor responding to dwindling oil supplies by resorting to ever more desperate attempts to pump the last and most difficult to access oil reserves. To the contrary, companies that honor the triple bottom line favor responding to the dwindling oil reserves by investing heavily in the development of non-carbon energy technologies. The United States and Western Europe are to reach zero carbon emissions by the year 2050 which we must do if we are going to have a world in 2050 which we recognize having some similarity to the world we live in now, or young technologies.

And what is particular promising is one, new and improved technologies for carbon sequestration; two, wind energy; three, solar photovoltaic; four, solar thermal. Companies that honor the triple bottom line see such investments developing the energy of the 21st century in contrast to investment recovering the last gallons of oil, which was the energy of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In conclusion triple bottom line-oriented companies ought to grow new technologies, new jobs which will emerge as technologies do. While the EPA plays a vital role in minimizing the damage which hydrofracking will do over the next decade, our businesses ought to build the energy economy that will truly honor people, planet and prosperity. Thank you.

Marge Baker:

Thank you so much, and thank you panels. I think we're ready now to open this up to questions.

Questioner:

Hello.

Marge Baker:

Hi.

Questioner:

Hi. My question is just really a clarification on two points: the petitions that will be delivered tomorrow; who's delivering them and who are you delivering them to, now many are you expecting, et cetera? And the bill, I can't remember the number that you're talking about in California, I mean is there a path to passage this year on that or is that sort of maybe the first year of a multiyear effort?

Marge Baker:

Great questions. Sarah, do you want to take the first question on the petitions?

Sarah Callahan:

Sure, absolutely. It'll be delivered directly to Daryl Issa, and it will be tomorrow at his hearing at 10 o'clock at the chamber of the board of supervisors where he's conducting the hearings. And I think it'll be a small and hearty band of folks from the district, from Curran Counties that are -- have directly experienced the damage of fracking in their community. And many from the greater Central Valley area and the Central Valley Quality Coalition, who have been working on trying to clean up the Central Valley air for many, many years. So my guess is somewhere between a dozen and twenty folks will be there tomorrow morning.

Mike Sorogen:

And if I could just -- will they be protesting outside and holding signs or anything too?

Sarah Callahan:

There'll be signs, of course, and -- but particularly we'll be working on delivering that petition to oppose greatly expanded fracking and to not give in to his oil industry buddies, which we know is likely to do.

Questioner:

Thank you.

Marge Baker:

And Bill can you address AB 591 and its prospects?

Bill Allayaud:

Yeah we plan on moving it through this year. In California if you become what's known as a two-year bill it means you've likely failed this year and you're trying – they say, "Let's put it over to next year." We have no such plans. It already passed the assembly Natural Resources Committee; it was on a party line vote, incidentally. It's now in the assembly Appropriations Committee, which assesses fiscal impacts. We're concerned there because in this state right now you can kill a bill if you're the opposition by just showing that it even -- we have a hint of a cause.

So we're working -- what we want to work with the Division of Oil and Gas on that; so far we haven't sat down with them. But we have sat down with the various elements of the oil and gas industry, western states, Petroleum Association and the Independent Producers, and also a couple of individual oil companies.

And I would say our talks are hopeful with them. They're at least saying they want to work something out, and they want to be leaders in this realm of chemical disclosure, but we'll see. Obviously we'll have to wait and see; they may be biding their time too. I have to believe if we get through appropriations, we're confident we will, that on the assembly floor they will work the conservative members of the Democrat Party, and of course the Republicans and try and kill the bill on the assembly floor.

So our goal is maybe to sit down further and discuss possible avenues of agreement. If not, we know what our bottom line is about public disclosure and getting these chemicals listed, and other impacts related to water that should be known.

Questioner:

Thank you.

Marge Baker:

Okay well then thank you very much, everyone, for joining us for the call, and I'm sure we will be back in touch on these issues. So thank you so much.

 

Issa’s Hydrofracking Hearing: The Facts

On Friday, May 6, 2011, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee will hold a field hearing in Bakersfield, California entitled Pathways to Energy Independence: Hydraulic Fracturing and Other New Technologies. The hearing’s witness list includes several representatives from the oil and gas industries.  

Rep. Issa: Favoring Special Interests Over the People’s Interests

  • In December, Rep. Darrell Issa sent a now-infamous letter to over 150 corporate lobbyists and industry grou­ps asking them to recommend hearings for the Oversight Committee, and specifically, to identify federal policies and regulations they would like to see eliminated.
  • Big Oil interests responded, seeking to roll back EPA regulations and streamline the permitting process for both offshore and onshore drilling.
  • According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Energy and Natural Resources sector has provided Rep. Issa with more than $300,000 in campaign funds throughout his career, and as a result, it appears that their influence leads to policy recommendations that do not necessarily have the public interest in mind.
  • Issa has targeted EPA regulations in a series of hearings since taking the reigns of the Oversight Committee. His witness lists have consistently been filled by personal friends and campaign contributors whose industries would benefit from fewer environmental safeguards.

Hydrofracking: Bad for People, Bad for the Planet

  • Hydraulic Fracturing (Hydrofracking) is a process that releases natural gas from underground rock formations by forcing fluid ( a mixture of water, sand, and toxic chemicals) through a well drilled deep into the earth . Fracking has not been properly studied by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • One to five million gallons of water is needed for each fracturing event, along with 5-25,000 gallons of the undisclosed, toxic chemical mixture.
  • Energy companies won’t disclose which chemicals are used in the process, claiming proprietary secrets. However, byproducts such as arsenic, copper, vanadium, benzene, heavy metals and radioactive material have been known to contaminate ground water and decrease air quality near fracking sites. Dangerous organic compounds are either burned off or vented directly into the air.
  • The “Halliburton Loophole,” which exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, was enacted at the behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney. This provision also stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate fracking.
  • Fracking creates a large carbon footprint, and the procedure will eventually produce more greenhouse gases than burning coal. Significant deforestation occurs from the necessary clear-cutting and road building to prepare fracking sites.
  • Poisoned rivers and aquifers resulting in reports of unusual health problems and wildlife die-offs have been reported in WY, CO, WV, TX, PA, LA, OH, and NY.

Witnesses: Representing the Wish List of Special-Interest Contributors

  • William Whitsitt is Devon Energy’s chief lobbyist. Larry Nichols, Chairman and CEO of Devon Energy, has personally donated $380,000 to Republican candidates throughout his lifetime. Devon Energy’s PAC has donated an additional $300,000 to Republican candidates in the 2010 cycle, with $11,000 going directly to Issa’s committee.
  • Tupper Hull is the VP Strategic Communications for the  Western States Petroleum Association, whose members include energy corporations such as Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Occidental and Valero. This group of companies’ combined campaign donations to Issa tops $77,000 over the course of his career. McCarthy received over $100,000 in contributions from the oil and gas industry in the 2010 campaign cycle alone.
  • Steve Layton is President of E and B Natural Resources, a subsidiary of the New-York based Galesi Group. The group’s principal, Francesco Galesi, is a reliable Republican donor.
  • Rock Zierman is CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, whose top federal issue is fracking. Although they are technically nonpartisan and nonprofit, they donate almost exclusively to the GOP, including, since 2006, contributions of $16,000 to McCarthy and $4,000 to the final witness on the list, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove of the 32nd District of California. Grove has donated $9,500 to Rep. McCarthy over the course of his career.
  • The Independent Petroleum Association of America responded to Issa’s inquiry to corporate lobbyists, and indicated their interest in rolling back EPA regulations and streamlining the permit acquisition process.
  • The IPAA receives funding from a wide range of major oil companies, several of which are represented on the hearing’s witness list and have made substantial financial contributions to Darrell Issa and other members of the Oversight Committee, including fellow Californian and House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, whom Issa designated to organize the California hearings.

Listen to PFAW's teleconference on the hydrofracking hearing below

For more information, visit:

www.CommonCause.org
http://issawatch.couragecampaign.org/index.php/page/162
http://politicalcorrection.org/blog/201105040007

 

Issa's Budget Hearings: Brought to You by the Koch Brothers

In the latest sham hearings, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa invited Wisconsin Gov. Walker to testify to the committee about fixing state and municipal budgets, despite Gov. Walker representing the kind of politics where the requests of the moneyed trump the needs of the middle class.
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