By Charles Schillinger (Staff Writer), The Times-Tribune, July 23, 2010
A hundred people gasped in anger and shock as Dimock Twp. resident Craig Sautner raised a milk jug of his brown drinking water at the back of a conference room at the Hilton Scranton and Conference Center.
For many, it was a damning indictment of the impact natural gas drilling has had on area communities. For others, there are less visible dangers to consider.
“The money machine is greasing the wheels of our fossil fuel addiction – which nobody’s talking about,” said Pat Carullo, a member of the environmental group Damascus Citizens for Sustainability. “It’s like the 50,000-pound gorilla in every room we all inhabit.”
Common Cause Pennsylvania hosted Thursday evening’s forum to discuss its May report, which found the natural gas industry has contributed $2.85 million to political candidates in the state in the past decade.
The gas industry’s involvement in the state’s political process has spiked most recently – it spent $4.2 million on lobbying efforts just since 2007.
The nonprofit watchdog group report also says that out of a decade of contributions, already Tom Corbett and Dan Onorato – the current Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates, respectively – are in the top 10 of recipients of gas industry contributions.
Mr. Corbett has received $361,207 and Mr. Onorato has received $59,300 through April.
State legislators from Northeast Pennsylvania were invited to attend the Thursday forum, but only one showed up. Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-113, Scranton, said he will not take contributions from the natural gas industry, though he supports drilling.
He also supports an extraction tax and stricter regulations on the industry.
“I find it hard to believe that in Pennsylvania you can get an expedited permit to drill for natural gas in three weeks and it takes at least 30 days to get a driver’s license here,” Mr. Murphy said. “That’s a clear indication that there’s some serious problems.”
Urging people to sign onto finance reform on the state and federal levels, James Browning, an associate director for Common Cause, said individuals cannot compete with wine-and-dine events that industry officials have for legislators on yachts and at golf courses.
“How can you ever hope to match that power?” asked Mr. Browning, who pressed attendees to call their legislators and support public financing of political campaigns. “It is imperative that we come up with a solution.”
Contact the writer: cschillinger@ timesshamrock.com