On fracking, will Govs. Brown and Cuomo heed Ed Rendell?

Jan. 21, 2013

By Chris Reed

fracking.equipWith the op-ed in last week’s Wall Street Journal about California’s enormous potential for a fracking-driven energy boom, it’s beginning to look like how Gov. Jerry Brown deals with the issue will be a national story. It’s one that will test the narrative about Brown being the ultimate pragmatist, a liberal who raps regulation and a Democrat who sees tight-fistedness as akin to good government.

Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead is no conservative, but he’s a very thoughtful critic of modern liberalism and its essential unaffordability. He too thinks how the Golden State deals with its oil shale is a huge story. Still, he joins the long list of East Coast pundits who have no feel for California politics:

“California’s greens are sure to raise a fuss over any new drilling in America’s greenest state, but their fears are misplaced. Drilling for shale oil doesn’t risk water contamination in the way drilling for shale gas does, and much of the drilling will be done on existing oil fields. …

“Rather than pushing against any and all new drilling in California, smart greens should be looking for ways to move forward with drilling while ensuring that environmental concerns are taken care of.”

Such “smart greens” do not exist in California. Opposition to fracking has been reflexive and strident. The Golden State’s greens and their bureaucratic allies are so dogmatic that they have actually talked themselves into believing higher energy prices, specifically those created by AB 32, are good for the economy.

The advice from Pennsylvania’s governor

The question for Jerry Brown is whether he will heed the green hysterics — or Ed Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, who saw fracking create jobs and economic growth in his state without the downside warned of by enviro groups.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a late-February deadline for deciding whether to extend his state’s ban on fracking. This New York Post story from Nov. 30 would leave one assuming that Rendell would offer Gov. Brown the same advice he offers Gov. Cuomo:

“‘New York would be crazy not to lift the moratorium’ imposed by former Gov. David Paterson in 2008, Rendell told The Post.

“‘I told Gov. Cuomo I would come to testify before any legislative committee,’ Rendell added. ‘I told [Cuomo] it’s a good thing to do.’

“Rendell’s strong pro-fracking comments are a coup for the drilling industry and for economically depressed upstate New York, which is clamoring for jobs.

“The no-nonsense Rendell, a former head of the Democratic National Committee, has a lot of credibility on the issue. … Rendell’s former environmental commissioner suggested it’s outrageous for New York to continue buying natural gas from other states without drilling for its own.

“’I do find it stunningly hypocritical to buy gas that comes from fracking wells somewhere [else] in the US and then say fracking is bad,’ said the former commissioner, John Hanger.

“He argued that natural gas is less polluting than coal or oil. …

“Rendell noted he barred the dumping of fracking water into wells and imposed fracking-well fees to hire 100 additional environmental inspectors.

“’The environmental harm can be significantly reduced or limited,’ by putting safety regulations in place ahead of time, he said.”

Rendell, like Jerry Brown, enjoys a rep as a blunt pragmatist. But Rendell also has a regular-guy populist vibe about him. That’s not our Jerry. Whatever his other qualities, I challenge anyone to point to any single event of his most recent four years as governor that suggests he has empathy for the long-term unemployed. Brown seems unlikely to use Rendell-style rhetoric in touting what fracking will do for hurting Californians.

As for Cuomo, he’s also not a populist. Instead, the New York governor is considered a clever straddler, someone who can win liberal votes by stressing cultural issues like gun control while governing as a pro-business centrist.

It’s hard to imagine how either Brown or Cuomo can finesse fracking, which threatens green dreams of a massive shift to renewable energy sources. Cuomo also wants to be president someday. So it is going to be intriguing — and, at least for political junkies, fun — to watch how fracking and the brown energy revolution play out this year in America’s two most influential states.

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