Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw | AspenTimes.com

Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Three stories in the news today:

1. Colorado has passed a law requiring drilling companies to release information about the “fracking” liquid they inject deep into the ground to stimulate gas and oil wells.

2. Republicans are fighting to require immediate approval for an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas despite environmental concerns.

3. The coal-burning electrical-power industry is fighting like a pack of rabid badgers (no insult to rabid badgers intended) to block EPA rules that would require an immediate significant cut in mercury emissions.

All three stories make me think about Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand of the market.” That invisible hand, Smith claimed, allows individual or corporate greed to somehow benefit us all.

Maybe that was true back in Smith’s day (the 1700s), but these days it would seem that his invisible hand is quite blatantly trying to poison us all. Yes, it is.

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OK … “fracking.”

Fracking, as we should all know, because there’s a lot of it going on in our vicinity, is the process of injecting a cocktail of chemicals into the earth to fracture (hence “fracking”) the rocks and allow gas and oil to escape into the well.

And, following the recommendations of Dick Cheney’s famously secret Energy Task Force, fracking is specifically exempt from EPA’s clean drinking water regulations.

Some see a link between this exemption and Cheney’s stint as CEO of Halliburton, which is one of the largest manufacturers of fracking fluids. Personally, I just think Cheney loves the oil and gas industry and hates clean water – but what do I know?

That exemption has made it much more difficult to control the effects of fracking – which has frequently been linked to serious water pollution, including cases in which tap water burst into flame. (Question: How exactly do you put out a fire when it’s your water supply that’s burning?)

Despite the apparently clear links, the industry declares that there has never been even one single case where it has been proven that fracking contaminated water.

Any such proof, of course, has been made difficult by the fact that the chemical makeup of fracking fluid is an industrial secret.

The new Colorado law will help put an end to that.

In any case, here we have the “invisible hand” being rather obvious – and it looks like either the hand of Dick Cheney or, perhaps, the ominous right hand of Darth Vader, which he used to crush the throats of his enemies. (Or maybe they’re one and the same.)

OK … that oil pipeline.

The TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline will cut a swath across the country, from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It will carry millions of gallons of famously dirty Canadian tar-sands oil to Texas for refining.

The pipeline will cross the Ogallala aquifer, which spans eight states, provides drinking water for 2 million people and supports $20 billion in agriculture. It also will cross a not-insignificant earthquake zone.

The fight over the pipeline had been fierce, political and as dirty as the oil itself (described in one charming phrase as a mixture of “synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen”).

The CEO of TransCanada says the pipeline will create some 20,000 American jobs. Others argue otherwise – including a Cornell University study that said the project would create less than 5,000 temporary construction jobs, which would be offset by high gasoline prices in the Midwest. In all, said the study, the pipeline might well destroy more jobs than it creates.

And that’s before we even get to the undeniable environmental costs of the dirty oil.

All in all, a great project.

The final decision on the pipeline will have to come from President Obama. Last month, Obama delayed action until at least 2013 in a political move that people on both sides of the issue (to use a technical term) have derided as “chickenshit.”

So the Republicans – who hate anything that smacks of “politics” – have introduced a bill that will require Obama to make the pipeline decision right away.

And if Democrats don’t approve the GOP bill, the Republicans will kill a Democratic payroll tax cut that will help people at the low end of the wage scale.

Now that invisible hand looks a lot like Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. And frankly, Mr. Hand, that ain’t a great way to look. I think you’d do better to go back to being invisible.

OK … coal-burning power plants:

That pesky EPA is ready to issue a ruling that will require power plants to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent within three years.

Mercury is a deadly poison, and – without going into details – it tends to wind up in fish, which people eat with terrible results. Particularly for children: born and (as they say) preborn.

The regulation has been in the works for almost 20 years. The Clinton administration ordered power plants to clean up, but the Bush administration changed the rules and allowed the pollution to continue.

Now, following court orders (in a suit brought, in part, by the American Nurses Association – but what do they know about health?), the EPA is ready to act.

The power industry is screaming that it’s impossible and too expensive.

In fact, some within the industry who have actual experience doing those cleanups say it can be done and done quickly – and, by the way, will create thousands of jobs in the process.

The invisible screaming from the invisible mouth of that invisible hand is getting pretty loud, but we shall see what happens very soon.

The EPA is supposed to issue its new rules this week.

Of course, bear in mind that there are those who declare that they will work tirelessly to eliminate the EPA entirely – because, I suppose, they love mercury and what it does to unborn children.

And so, at last, we can clearly see the ugly face of that invisible hand. (Come on, you gotta love that phrase, right?)

And it’s trying to poison us! (Except, I suppose, those of us who don’t eat fish. Or breathe air. Or drink water.)

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