Pivotal Figure in Fracking Debate Tumbles from Summit of His Own Ambition
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According to Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., “Among the environmental community and the more responsible gas industry players, we found a widespread mistrust of Aubrey McClendon. My personal experience with him confirms that impression. I think his conduct severely damaged the possibility that the environmental community might work with the natural gas community to develop a regulatory framework that would protect the public interest, and reduce our reliance on coal and foreign oil.”
McClendon initially demonstrated his good faith to the environmental community by taking New York City’s 2,000-square-mile Catskill watershed—much of it under lease by Chesapeake and its allies—off the table, promising to permanently ban fracking on Chesapeake land in the Catskills. He also offered many environmental groups support for their anti-coal campaigns, including Waterkeeper Alliance. “We thought it would be inappropriate to take that money,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance who was at that time running the Waterkeeper Alliance’s national campaign against mountaintop mining.
The Sierra Club certainly has taken a lot of heat for accepting money from Chesapeake Energy. Current Executive Director Michael Brune explained the Sierra Club’s new position on natural gas drilling in an Insights piece on EcoWatch.org.
“In 2010, soon after I became the organization’s executive director, I learned that beginning in 2007 the Sierra Club had received more than $26 million from individuals or subsidiaries of Chesapeake Energy, one of the country’s largest natural gas companies. At the same time I learned about the donation, we at the Sierra Club were also hearing from scientists and from local chapters about the risks that natural gas drilling posed to our air, water, climate and people in their communities. We cannot accept money from an industry we need to change. Very quickly, the board of directors, with my strong encouragement, cut off these donations and rewrote our gift acceptance policy.”
In addition, McClendon has been funding an industry lobbying group, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, for a “Coal is Flithy” campaign to try and put the brakes on a Texas utility planning to build 11 new coal plants.
There was a sizable contingent within the gas industry that was genuinely interested in working together with environmentalists for tough regulations, transparency and rigorous enforcement, understanding that natural gas needed to get public confidence and not a black eye. That window only stayed open for a short time.
“Aubrey is a charming, affable, brilliant and powerful figure who had the capacity to lead his industry to do great things for our country and humanity. It’s a tragedy that all of his extraordinary potential seems to have been squandered due to poor judgement and the seduction of greed and personal ambition,” said Kennedy.
Stefanie Penn Spear, founder and executive director of EcoWatch ( www.ecowatch.org) and president of Expedite Renewable Energy ( www.expediterenewableenergy.com), has been working on environmental issues for more than 20 years. EcoWatch is a nonprofit organization that works to encourage individuals, businesses and governments to adopt sustainable lifestyles, business practices and policies. Publishers of the EcoWatch Journal newspaper, which is distributed for free throughout Ohio with a readership of more than 100,000, EcoWatch provides a venue for Ohio's environmental organizations and activists to get their news out to a broad audience.