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First Amendment Rights? Frack No.

J. Mijin Cha

So much for the First Amendment and for Speaker Boehner’s pledge to ensure transparency and accountability.

Yesterday, documentary film maker, Josh Fox, was arrested while trying to film a House Science, Space, and Technology subcommittee hearing on fracking. Fox directed the Oscar-nominated film, Gasland, which highlights the dangers of fracking and famously showed Pennsylvania residents lighting their tap water on fire. Republicans on the subcommittee claimed Fox and his crew did not have proper press credentials to be filming and had Capitol police remove them. Fox was arrested and charged with unlawful entry. Somebody should have told the Representatives and policemen that committee hearings are open to the public. Or, as Rep. Zoe Lofgren stated, "Do these guys get the 1st Amendment, at all?"

The hostility shown towards transparency and First Amendment rights should be shocking, but sadly, it’s not. Coupled with the continued insistence of pushing the Keystone XL pipeline, even over the interests of workers and the middle class, this latest move by Republicans shows the depth of their loyalty to fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry doesn't like Josh Fox and they don't like his message about the dangers of fracking. And, because the GOP is beholden to that industry, it dosn't like Fox either.

The hearing was meant to explore the EPA’s investigation into whether fracking contaminated the water supply in Pavillion, Wyoming. The agency’s report shows that Pavilion’s water contamination was most likely from gas wells that contained at least 10 compounds known to be used in fracking fluids. Fracking is also linked to poisoning water supplies in Dimock, Pennsylvania and the EPA is now providing safe drinking water to the town. Poisoned drinking water coupled with the recent link between fracking and earthquakes shows just how dangerous fracking is. Yet, fracking proponents are able to drive a wedge in communities by touting jobs and economic benefits to areas that have long been economically depressed.

In fact, the jobs and economic benefits that are promised never materialize. The majority of jobs go to workers from out of state while local communities are left to bear the environmental costs and damage. Big oil and gas companies, like Halliburton, however, profit very well from fracking. Increased fracking operations helped Halliburton’s fourth quarter income soar to over $900 million. In one quarter.

The level of greed that pushes politicians and companies to exploit economically insecure communities by falsely promising jobs and growth while instead polluting their drinking water is something else. Compared to that, what’s a little quashing of First Amendment rights?