Archive for the ‘Elections/Campaigns’ Category

Long Election Day lines strengthen push for early voting in Va.

Posted on: December 14th, 2012 by Reilly Moore No Comments

A Virginia early voting bill failed during the past six General Assembly sessions, but some lawmakers hope that frustration over long lines during the 2012 election will lead to a more productive discussion on how to make voting more convenient. (more…)

Civil liberties groups decry church messaging at polling places

Posted on: November 20th, 2012 by Andy Birkey 3 Comments

In South Saint Paul, Minn., on Election Day, residents showed up at St. John Vianney Catholic Church to vote and were greeted with a banner outside the polling place entrance that read, “Strengthen Marriage, Don’t Redefine It.” (more…)

Big telecom pushes de-regulation bill in California

Posted on: September 10th, 2012 by Siddhartha Mahanta 1 Comment

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California could be the latest state to enact a law that dramatically curbs regulatory oversight of telecommunications services in the state, handing a significant victory to the industry players that have lobbied for the bill’s passage. (more…)

In Colorado, calls for gun control

Posted on: August 7th, 2012 by The American Independent 4 Comments

While many politicians are playing it safe, saying it is too soon to talk about gun laws or saying they don’t want to “politicize” the Colorado and now Wisconsin shootings, Democratic U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter have been outspoken about their desire for more stringent regulation. (more…)

Va. approaches decision on privatizing sex offender program

Posted on: June 25th, 2012 by Siddhartha Mahanta 4 Comments

The Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation in Burkeville, Virginia. Photo provided to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission by VCBR.

The nation’s second-largest private prison company says it expects Virginia to make a decision by next month on its bid to expand and operate the state’s detention facility for sexually violent predators who have completed their prison terms.


Gay marriage foes tout conservative-backed parenting study

Posted on: June 21st, 2012 by Andy Birkey 17 Comments

Maggie Gallagher appears on the Christian Broadcasting Network to discuss a controversial new study on children raised by gay parents.

A dozen groups fighting against marriage equality are touting a controversial study about gay and lesbian parenting that was funded by two conservative organizations. (more…)

Congressman seeks to increase distance between fracking and schools

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final installment in a series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here. and the fourth part here.

BOULDER, COLO. — There are a lot of opinions on how far hydraulic fracturing should be from schools. One resident near a drilling operation a few hundred yards from Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie said he was probably the only one on his block who didn’t mind the noise or environmental and health risks Encana Corp.’s project brought with it. Still, in a perfect world, he said he’d prefer it were a mile away.

In Colorado, oil and gas operations are required to be at least 350 feet from schools.

Rep. Jared Polis (Image courtesy of Rep. Jared Polis)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would like to increase the setback nationwide to 1,000 feet. He is introducing an amendment today that would do just that for primary and secondary schools located near U.S. oil and gas resources. If passed, the amendment would be attached to the controversial Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, or H.R. 4480, sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner, R.-Colo. H.R. 4480 is strongly opposed by sportsmen and environmental groups as it would mandate increased federal agency leasing of oil and gas resources and weaken the country’s clean air protections.

“An increased setback would better protect school-aged children from the negative impacts of air pollution from drilling sites. Studies indicate that there are increased levels of carcinogenic fumes, such as benzene, near fracking sites,” Polis’ spokesman Chris Fitzgerald wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent.

Protecting children and other people from risks that hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, operations pose to communities is receiving more attention than ever in Colorado and elsewhere as more rigs creep ever closer.

The oil and gas companies paint their detractors as alarmists. The health concerns are blown out of proportion, they argue. Whenever possible, companies say they try to drill even farther out than the law requires and, in the case of Red Hawk and Erie elementary schools, during summer break.

But the noise, traffic and questions of public safety are too much for some parents. If they aren’t pulling their children out of the affected schools and moving out of their communities, they are rallying together and taking to the streets with protest signs, trying to reclaim their neighborhoods.

Getting results or even answers isn’t easy.

Growing natural gas development in urban Texas where schools, health facilities, homes and elderly communities are increasingly at risk led to a Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods report (pdf) last year titled “Recommendations For Drilling Near Schools.”

“In its genesis, this project was envisioned to be a comprehensive review of available data with concomitant recommendations. Once into the project, however, it became patently clear that there is an appalling lack of information available on which to base sound responsible decisions,” the report concluded. “It was deeply disturbing how little information is available to elected officials or State regulating entities that is independent of the operators. Proper due diligence is nearly impossible. This was both startling and alarming. Further, there appears to be a complete relegation of responsibility by both the City and State which allows industry to conduct operations at their own discretion with very little oversight or verification by governmental entities or accountability to the public.”

The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods further found “the city has no comprehensive plan or map of drilling or pipeline placement for the entire city; has not conducted independent on-going monitoring for emissions; and has no will to assume authority for such.” Nor is there a mechanism in place for routine emissions checks at existing wells or processing facilities, according to the group’s report.

Fracking isn’t just putting pressure on schools. It is also competing for their water supplies.

Protestors in Erie, Colo., tell Encana to get its "Hands Off Our Community" and "Our Children Are Not Your Experiment." (Photo by Troy Hooper)The amount of water used each year in Colorado — between 22,100 and 39,500 acre feet — is enough to meet the annual needs of up to 296,100 residents or more than the population of Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Buffalo, N.Y., according to a Western Resource Advocates report released today.

“It is a travesty that in a water-starved state like Colorado, we are using so much water for oil and gas drilling,” said Longmont resident Barbara Fernandez, who retired in 2011 after 24 years with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and is concerned about fracking near schools and residences.

There are 89 public schools in Colorado within a 1,000-foot radius of federal subsurface estates.

“Schools should be safe havens for learning and growing, not places for worrying about whether the wind is blowing industrial poisons into the classroom,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action. “We applaud Rep. Polis’ leadership to protect school kids and families from cancer-causing chemicals emitted during oil and gas drilling and fracking.”

Political battle lines drawn over fracking in Colo.

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in The Colorado Independent’s ongoing series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here and the third part here.

As concerns mount over oil and gas rigs inching closer to several Colorado schools, legislators are looking toward 2013 to sort out whether local controls should take a backseat to state regulations.

Trailers are used as sound barriers at a new drilling operation near schools and homes in Erie. (Photo by Troy Hooper)

In the Colorado General Assembly’s last session, which adjourned in May, the Republican-controlled House tried to centralize power with the state and override municipal authorityto zone drilling while the Democrat-led Senate sought to give cities, towns and counties the ability to decide where rigs go.

“I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” State Senate President Brandon Shaffer said in an interview this week. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”

Industry groups, Republicans and Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper contend the state should regulate oil and gas drilling. When Longmont City Council attempted to pass its own regulations that would have prohibited drilling in residential areas, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sent a letter to the city with the implied threat of a lawsuit should council move forward. Residents have responded with grassroots action, forming groups like Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont and Erie Rising to stand up for their rights to clean air and water.

Hickenlooper et al. promote Colorado as having the strongest hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, disclosure laws in the country. Critics argue the state often doesn’t enforce its own rules, repeatedly failing to punish companies that break laws or spill oil and gas.

“I think companies engaged in oil and gas drilling should have to prove to the community that what they are doing is safe,” said Mike Foote, a former deputy district attorney who is running as a Democrat to succeed Matt Jones as the next representative of House District 12, which includes the Boulder County portion of Erie where fracking has crept awfully close to multiple schools.

“Right now I don’t see that,” he said. “I see the oil and gas companies coming in and saying they are going to drill and people protesting and the companies basically saying, ‘That’s too bad. We’re going to drill there anyway.’ People have legitimate concerns about whether the process is safe and the oil and gas companies don’t seem to be doing a good job addressing those questions.”

Messages left with oil and gas companies and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association were not returned.

Tisha Casida, an independent running against incumbent Republican Scott Tipton and Democrat challenger Sal Pace to represent the Western Slope in Congress, worries government is trampling the individual property rights of people living in energy-rich communities.

“The ‘fight’ must get down to the local level where the actual stakeholders are – these are the people that live in the community, and are intricately invested in the community,” she said. “I have spoken to many in our campaign – and the one thing that we can agree on is that there are big companies and ‘big government’ that are ultimately deciding on and benefiting from the development of these resources. This never really gets back to the individuals in these communities.”

While Colorado politicians wrangled over local versus state controls, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, both D-Colo., urged the federal government to require drillers to disclose what chemicals they pump into the ground.

But in a concession to the oil and gas industry, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposed a rule that wouldn’t require the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids until after the drilling of a well is completed. DeGette and others believe disclosures should be made before drilling.

The Environmental Protection Agency has preliminarily linked groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., with hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are flushed into the earth to dislodge natural gas or oil.

Industry representatives dispute that fracking can contaminate drinking water.

“We need to have some standards in place for the types of chemicals that are used to make sure we are not injecting cancer-causing chemicals into the ground and potentially contaminating water supplies for populated areas,” Shaffer said. “But ultimately I think it’s a state and local government issue. There is a responsible way to explore for natural gas. We just need to make sure it’s done in a responsible way.”

Shaffer is now running for Congress against incumbent Republican Cory Gardner in CD 4.

His opponent, Rep. Gardner, whose district includes heavily fracked areas like Erie, has been an ardent supporter of the oil and gas industry, consistently voting to weaken environmental protections.

“My opponent has now received more contributions from oil and gas interests in his short year and a half tenure than [Gardner's predecessor] Marilyn Musgrave [a Republican] received her entire six years she was in Congress,” Shaffer said. “For sure, there is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to influence the policies that are in place at the federal level.”

Gardner and his spokespersons did not return messages seeking comment.

The congressman isn’t alone. Oil and gas money has long poured into the campaign coffers of politicians across America. This year is no different. The oil and gas industry is the ninth biggest giver to Congress, donating $11.7 million so far in 2012, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. Eighty-six percent of the funds went to Republicans and 14 percent of it to Democrats.