Ohio anti-fracking activist joins Greta Thunberg in speaking out against fossil fuel subsidies at Earth Day congressional hearing
WASHINGTON, DC – A self-proclaimed “fracking refugee” from Belmont County, Ohio, joined Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Thursday on Earth Day to urge a congressional subcommittee to drop out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry when Congress passes its next infrastructure bill.
Jill Antares Hunkler told the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s environment subcommittee that she was forced to leave her home at the source of the historically pristine Captina Creek watershed by infrastructure oil and gas and pollution from a compressor station, 78 frack wells, a transfer station and an interstate pipeline with numerous collection pipelines, all within a five-mile radius of his home.
She said a 2018 frack well blowout in Belmont County caused one of the largest methane leaks in U.S. history, forcing residents of the area to evacuate their homes, and that a brine truck accident had contaminated the Barnesville reservoir with radioactive material.
“The negative health repercussions we suffered were too much to bear,” she said. “First, we noticed the smells and had irritation of the nose, eyes and throat, as well as headaches. The symptoms worsened over time with nausea, dizziness, rash, mental confusion, disorientation, numbness, and aches and pains. True wealth is good health, and our health and happiness have suffered as long as we have been in the trough.
Since the fracking boom began, she said Belmont and other counties in eastern Ohio that produce natural gas have lost more than 6,500 jobs instead of gaining them, and the people of the region has declined.
“This is why there is no reason to believe that reducing subsidies for the fossil fuel industry will result in job losses,” Hunkler said. “And local oil and gas workers are often the industry’s least-valued assets. They are exploited, given the worst, most dangerous and most often the lowest paying contract jobs without health care or pension benefits. “
Thunberg told the subcommittee that it was “a shame” that fossil fuels are still supported by taxes and “proof that we have not understood the climate emergency at all”.
“The simple fact is that if we are to keep our promises and commitments in Paris, we have to end fossil fuel subsidies now,” Thunberg said. “And that’s not my ‘opinion’ … How long do you think you can continue to ignore the climate crisis and not be held responsible? You are doing it now, but sooner or later people are going to realize what you did this time. It’s inevitable. You still have time to do the right thing and save your legacy, but this window of time won’t last long. “
Frank Macchiarola of the American Petroleum Institute told the subcommittee that the oil and gas industry supports ten million jobs in the US economy. He said the people he employs directly earn an average annual salary of about $ 108,000, nearly double the private sector average. Even if global renewable energy goals are met, he said oil and natural gas are still expected to provide 46% of the world’s energy in 2040.
“The crucial question for Congress is whether more of this energy will come from here at home, or from abroad,” Macchiarola said. who said that domestic oil and gas producers are now the world leaders in energy production and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. He said the natural gas industry reduced methane emissions by 16% from 1990 to 2019, while production increased by 90%.
He said federal tax policy should promote U.S. investment and the tax deductions his industry is allowed to take for expenses such as equipment, labor, and wages “are not subsidies, but rather, common tools that allow companies to develop, invest and create jobs ”. He said the measures affect the timing of the industry’s tax payments, not the amount it pays.
He said industry investments ultimately generated significant tax revenue, in the last decade alone the US Department of the Interior was disbursing about $ 10 billion annually generated by the production of energy on federal lands and waters and $ 12 billion in 2019 alone. Excise taxes on industry products also generate significant revenue for infrastructure projects, he said. , observing that federal fuel taxes generated $ 36 billion for highways and bridges in 2019.
“It is essential to implement effective and achievable policies that allow us to continue to reduce emissions while supporting the US economy and energy security,” Macchiarola said.
Republican members of the subcommittee supported Macchiarola’s arguments. Its top Republican, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, argued that the Democrat-promoted “Green New Deal” would “cut affordable energy” and cost the nation thousands of jobs.
Representative Pat Fallon of Texas said fossil fuels currently receive about $ 3.2 billion in tax benefits, while renewables receive about three times as much. He argued that “hampering our own energy” would diminish the US goal of energy independence, and said that “we should do all we can in our power” to continue to facilitate the industry’s successes. energy by increasing its production while reducing emissions.
Democrats took a different view, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York accusing the fossil fuel industry of sowing fear and “environmental racism” for building environmentally damaging projects on land owned by companies. Native Americans and other minorities.
The chairman of the subcommittee, California Democrat Ro Khanna, said he held the hearing because the United States was both the world’s second-largest producer of fossil fuels and its second-largest fossil fuel subsidizer. He said the subsidies boost business profits and do not help workers in the industry.
“These fossil fuel subsidies are outdated and must be phased out,” Khanna said.
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