There is a tendency in this country for politicians, especially Republican politicians, to base important decisions that affect the health, welfare, and well-being of the people on emotion, fear, religion, deliberate misinformation, or special interest greed. Republicans depend on lies and deceit to convince their ignorant base to support dangerous policies, and it is why they criticize science and unbiased research so vehemently; particularly surrounding issues surrounding the fossil fuel industry and its risk to the environment; and Americans’ health.
On Wednesday, after a two year comprehensive study on the damaging effects to the health of New York residents from the controversial oil industry practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he deferred his decision on fracking to findings of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York health commissioner. Cuomo said that since fracking is “the most emotionally charged issue that I’ve ever experienced. More than marriage equality, more than the gun issue, more than the death penalty. I will be bound by what the medical experts say; let the science decide.” Obviously, Republicans lambasted Cuomo for depending on science to protect the health of Empire State residents.
What the science decided was that according to extensive research and lengthy reviews by DEC commissioner Joseph Martens and state health commissioner Howard Zucker, fracking would be banned in New York State. According to both Martens and Zucker, the risks to New York state’s water supply and air quality were too great to approve fracking. The two men said that the preponderance of peer-reviewed studies revealed that there was both scientific and anecdotal evidence of immediate health and environmental risks in allowing fracking to proceed in New York. Dr. Zucker said the “current studies and cumulative concerns about fracking give me reason to pause,” and that he would not allow his “family to live in an area where hydraulic fracturing was taking place.” He also said that “We have a responsibility to ourselves, but also to future generations,” and the two men based their decision on science; not industry greed or emotion.
The idea that fracking is an imminent health threat to Americans, now and long into the future, is not a novel proposition, but basing a decision on science to ban the practice certainly is and dependent on which party controls a state. Last October, California regulators shut down about 30 fracking injection wells despite objections from the oil industry because they were contaminating aquifers with poison and carcinogens discovered through scientific reports and research. New York and California residents are fortunate to have Democratic governors protecting their health and well-being, unlike Wisconsin that is suffering a Republican crusade banning attempts to regulate the damage and health risks from the fracking industry.
Scientists, medical researchers, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) officials have known for years that, besides the health risk of carcinogenic toxins used in fracking, the sand (silica) mixed with chemicals are extreme health risks; to workers and area residents. In fact, silica, whether mixed with chemicals and water, or as dust, is a carcinogen that causes silicosis; a serious and incurable lung condition that causes scarring in the lungs, weakness, hinders the body’s ability to fight infections, and eventually respiratory failure. OSHA lists bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, lung cancer, and tuberculosis as just a few of the deadly risk factors of silicosis.
Wisconsin is home to a major silica “frac sand” mining industry that residents are terrified is slowly killing their children and families. There are major community efforts to regulate frac-sand mining in the state from frightened residents, but Republicans serving the Koch brothers are fighting to protect the industry; not the people. As is usually the case, Republicans base their policy decisions and legislation on industry greed and not the scientifically-proven health risks.
In just one of about 130 communities in Wisconsin, a former journalist who was elected to the county board in 2012, Sally Miller, related that residents were flooding her home phone with calls and showing up to board meetings “literally begging” for help due to the health effects from breathing silica dust. She said, “People living near these mines are terrified that their children, themselves, and their families” were going to get sick and die.
Residents are aware of the plethora of health hazards surrounding silica dust on air emissions, runoff into waterways, and the radioactive substances their families breathe and drink, and they are demanding that politicians take action and protect them. However, Republicans have taken steps to stop any action before it can begin by introducing legislation “prohibiting government from establishing or enforcing state or federal air quality standards, banning permits related to air quality, and even forbidding attempts to monitor air and water quality in or around mining sites.”
Last month, Wisconsin Republicans created Koch legislation for early 2015 stripping governments of their right to regulate facilities that mine or process sand for fracking. The legislation voids bans, abolishes air quality monitoring, and eliminates any restrictions on “frac sand” mining that counties have, or intended to, approve in the absence of tougher state regulations. It also prohibits communities and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from strengthening rules on rehabilitating the mined land to prevent the spread of silica dust. According to the federal OSHA, it is estimated that there are 7,300 new cases of silicosis diagnosed and over 200 people die every year.
Mining industry officials say that it is crucial for Republicans to “abolish regulations to provide more economic prosperity for their industry” regardless of the cost in health and deaths. Wisconsin residents and their children’s health risks, including lung diseases like tuberculosis, liver and kidney disease, and increase in several cancers is just the price the people and workers have to pay for “more economic prosperity for the industry.” It is not that Republicans or the oil industry are unaware of the health risks inherent in mining silica for fracking, they just could not care less because their decision is based solely on industry profits.
There could not possibly be a greater contrast in how Republicans make crucial decisions compared to Democrats as is evident in Wisconsin and New York. It is no coincidence that the oil industry, or Republicans, ever acknowledge the health risks of fracking or mining frac-sand, or contest the scientific evidence; because they refuse to acknowledge there is science. Their only regard is industry profits and if people die, it is just the price the victims pay to enrich the oil industry which is the fate of the nation with the Koch brothers controlling Congress.