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The Fracking Industry Has Bought Off Congress: Here Are the Worst Offenders

Thanks to our morally bankrupt political system and the Supreme Court's ruling on Citizens United, the fracking lobby's power of the purse is huge.

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More importantly, and across party lines, the fracking industry has lavished millions on crucial members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Yet it was only DeGette who continued to beat the lonely regulation drum after the EPA's report on Wyoming.

"The fact that we have a proven case of a connection between hydraulic fracturing and the contamination of an aquifer underscores just how important it is that we take cautionary steps to protect our communities' water supply," said DeGette in December, after Colorado implemented a new fracking disclosure rule. "That is why I continue to encourage members of Congress to pass my FRAC Act, so communities across the country will have transparency in the drilling process as well."

Transparency is the enemy of industry, which is why steps to stem its ubiquity in fracking have continued support from well-paid politicians at the state and federal levels, despite the disturbing facts. As Browning and Kaplan explained in Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets, different states host different loopholes for perpetuating the industry's extraordinary influence. Pennsylvania currently has no limit on campaign contributions, while Ohio's lobbying law fails to require disclosure of lobbyists' salaries, complicating the effort to get hard numbers on their political spending.

"There is a direct and frightening parallel between the failure to get better disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking, and the failure to get better disclosure of the industry's political expenditures," Browning told AlterNet. "As noted in our report, the industry has been ramping up its independent political expenditures since Citizens United. Three ways to give the public more of a fighting chance are requiring disclosure of all independent political expenditures, requiring disclosure of political expenditures to corporate shareholders, and giving corporate shareholders the power to approve or disapprove such expenditures in advance."

According to Browning, some strange developments have arisen on the latter front, from parties to our current economic and environmental misery. Fracking's indignant bedfellows have been getting stranger.

"As the potential dangers of fracking become harder to ignore, two of the most interesting developments are the hard questions being asked by banks and mortgage brokers, who don't want to be left with a lot of potentially permanently polluted property, and by the shareholders at oil and gas companies," Browning explained. "Last May, shareholders at ExxonMobil and Chevron both introduced resolutions to force better disclosure of the potential risks and costs of fracking. The Chevron resolution got more than 40 percent, a very high figure for a controversial, first-year resolution."

It's hard to look at budding shareholder revolts in both repeat offenders without noticing that, like most polluters and parasites, they've soiled their own nests. ("You never miss your water, until your well runs dry," is how Peter Tosh put it in the song "Till Your Well Runs Dry.") From the Deepwater Horizon spill in Landrieu's Louisiana to fracking messes in predominately Republican territories, citizens and shareholders alike are starting to realize that fossil fuel's base is, pun intended, fracturing.

"Fracking is an unusual example of an environmental issue that, for now, is playing out in areas that routinely support Republicans," said Browning. "In Pennsylvania, the threat not only of water and air pollution but also of stripping local governments' abilities to regulate fracking in their communities is creating common cause between rural Republicans and urban and suburban environmentalists."

"We need to take this momentary victory in the Delaware River and move across Pennsylvania and the United States to stop fracking," Gasland director Fox tweeted in November, after the Northeast's Delaware River Basin Commission -- which includes the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware and an official from the Army Corp of Engineers -- postponed further meetings about regulating fracking in the region. "We have the momentum."

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