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Friday, December 15, 2017

The Fracking Candidate: It’s All In The Family For Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

The Fracking Candidate: It’s All In The Family For Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

In May of last year, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, now considered the favorite to win West Virginia’s open Senate seat, stood on a small platform in Charleston, behind a row of tiny trophies in the shape of drilling rigs. She was there to congratulate the Energy Corporation of America, a major gas exploration and distribution company, on its plans to open a new building in the state capital. The company needed new space to accommodate over a hundred new employees in coming years. “I am honored to attend the groundbreaking celebration of the ECA’s new eastern headquarters,” Capito told the crowd, according to an ECA press release. “This privately held company has brought economic growth to West Virginia.”

Though there’s no record of her having acknowledged it publicly, among those hired by the growing firm is her own son, Arch Moore Capito, who was retained as in-house counsel by ECA after his graduation from Washington & Lee University’s law school in 2011.

The hiring of Arch, named after Capito’s father, the late West Virginia governor Arch Moore, highlights a growing trend. Major players in the  gas industry, which faces major regulatory hurdles relating to its extraction and distribution infrastructure, exports, and environmental issues, have taken to hiring the relatives of powerful politicians.

In May, Hunter Biden, the son of the vice president, made headlines when he joined the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas producer. Last year, Marty Durbin, the nephew of Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), was named president of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, the primary trade group representing fracking companies. Also last year, EQT Corporation—one of the largest natural gas producers in Appalachia—registered Robert Shuster, the brother of Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA)—as a lobbyist.

Other lawmakers have enjoyed largely unreported family ties to the industry for several years. In 2010, Teddy Carter, the son of Rep. John Carter (R-TX), became a lobbyist for a Texas trade group that represents independent drilling companies involved in fracking as well as traditional oil and gas extraction. Last year, Teddy Carter worked to influence Texas rules governing how water wells are used to supply fracking projects.

In some cases, politicians with family ties to the gas industry hold sway over decisions critical to the industry. Rep. Shuster, for instance, is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which oversees pipeline safety regulations. Registration forms show Shuster’s brother was retained to work on “issues related to the regulation of shale gas production and pipeline safety initiatives” on behalf of EQT.

Capito is a member of the same congressional committee. As a member of the GOP’s House Energy Action Team, which is largely dedicated to promoting increased fossil fuel development, including fracking, she has been an outspoken advocate for expanded natural gas drilling. And back in 2007, before her son was retained by ECA, she read a statement of praise for ECA into the congressional record.

The League of Conservation Voters lists a number of votes in which Capito has sided with the fracking industry. Last year, she voted for a bill that would, in the name of states’ rights, prohibit the federal government from regulating fracking if a state has even minimal regulations or guidance of its own in place. And she voted against an amendment to the bill that would have allowed the Department of the Interior to limit methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands. The amendment was defeated, and the bill — known as the Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act — passed in the House by a wide margin and awaits Senate action.

“It’s easier and less expensive [for corporations] to attempt to pursue favorable regulation at the state level,” says Mitch Jones, director of the Common Resources Program at Food & Water Watch, which opposed the bill. “The level of expertise is often lower at the state level than the federal level and the money industry brings to bear is often much more influential.”

FirstEnergy Corp, an electrical company that relies heavily on natural gas, is one of the top five donors to her campaign committee, with $32,650 in donations from its employees. And employees of ECA and its subsidiaries, including chief executive John Mork, now rank among Moore Capito’s largest individual donors, with nearly $60,000 in contributions.

Capito did not respond to a request for comment.

“ECA’s relationship with Congresswoman Capito is cordial and respectful, although our contact with her office has been fairly limited in nature,” says Jennifer Vieweg, a spokesperson for ECA. “And, while John and Julie Mork are personal friends with Charlie and Shelley Moore Capito, this relationship has existed since the mid-1980s and long before she entered politics.”

ECA, a rapidly growing company that recently inked a $90 million partnership with Chinese state-owned Shenhua Energy Co. to drill the Marcellus Shale in southwestern Pennsylvania, has had its share of regulatory violations. In Pennsylvania, the state environmental regulator has cited the company for at least 23 violations since 2008 related to discharging pollutants into public lands and water.

“Despite the abundance of natural gas and all of the good that comes with responsible development of this resource,” wrote James Flavin, an ECA business operations manager in a trade publication, “unnecessary regulatory and environmental burdens could restrict the industry’s ability to provide low-cost, clean energy for the State of West Virginia and the nation.”

“The fact that her son is on ECA’s payroll ought to require her to recuse herself from voting on bills to benefit the company which enriches her close family members,” says Lisa Graves, president of the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group. “It’s certainly a conflict of interest.”

Durbin, Biden, and other Democrats have increasingly aligned with the natural gas lobby as both a geopolitical weapon against Russia and a so-called “bridge fuel” to wean the economy off of more high-carbon fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. In March, Durbin expressed support for fast-tracking liquefied natural gas exports—a key lobbying priority of the trade group where his nephew works, America’s Natural Gas Alliance—in response to the crisis in Ukraine, though he has since raised concerns about its impact on domestic natural gas prices. For his part, Biden traveled to Ukraine this April to announce a $50 million aid package that included technical support for increasing the country’s natural gas production—an investment that could bolster profits at Burisma Holdings, where his son is a director.

Lee Fang is a reporting fellow with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Photo: House GOP via Flickr

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11 Responses to The Fracking Candidate: It’s All In The Family For Rep. Shelley Moore Capito

  1. If Congress and the Senate have phone directories they should just publish them and do away with the guessing. Relabel the front cover to: People on the take and have done with it. One point that is being missed in all these exposes is that there are alternatives to fracking and coal that are not being funded. Methane production from farms and city waste, thermal solar can all replace coal, natural gas etc.

  2. Congratulations to Lee Fang for a well written and researched article. Please, NM, give Lee the rest of the day off.

  3. This article is just more evidence that legislators are more concerned with padding their pocketbooks or in some way helping their reelection, than they are in doing what’s right for their constituents, our country and the planet. Article upon article accessible via the internet is providing increasing proof that fracking for gas and oil is polluting America’s environment: its air, water and land.

    Texas was determined by an environmental group in 2013 to have America’s most polluted environment due to the state’s extensive energy producing activities including, oil exploration and refining, fracking for gas and oil, and of course, the extensive production of electricity by the burning of coal. The pollution from fracking of gas and oil in Texas may be a little more concentrated because of a more intense concentration of exploration, but it’s still evident that if legislators who are aligned with the fossil fuel industry are consistently voted back into office, over time, fossil fuel exploration will turn large parts of America into the example that Texas is setting – America will become the land of the polluted.

    For those who aren’t really familiar with the dangers presented by fossil fuel exploration, especially with respect to polluting the air we breathe, below are some excerpts from just one of the many articles on the pollution being created in America by the fossil fuel industry, which Congress keeps funding with taxpayer dollars through subidies; it’s excerpts from an article that disproves allegations made by the Texas state government that fracking has a minor impact on the quality of air in the state:

    Studies: Links Between Fracking and Smog Pollution Stronger Than State Claims

    New research suggests that pollution from fracking contributes a much larger share of Dallas-Fort Worth’s smog problem than state officials have said. The study, conducted by Mahdi Ahmadi, a graduate student at the University of North Texas, was presented at a clean-air meeting this morning in Arlington. He found that while smog levels have dropped overall since the late 1990s, ozone levels in fracking areas have been increasing steadily and rising at a much higher rate than in areas without oil and gas activity. Since 2008, meteorologically-adjusted ozone in the fracking region has increased 12 percent while in the non-fracking region ozone rose just 4 percent. The trend during the winter was “even more striking,” said Dr. Kuruvilla John, the UNT engineering professor who oversaw the study. During winter months, the fracking region saw a 21-percent increase in ozone, while in the non-fracking area it went up 5 percent.

    The new UNT research isn’t the only recent study suggesting that the state’s scientific understanding of ozone is shaky. A study conducted for the Alamo Area Council of Governments, released earlier this month, found that fracking activity in South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale would drive large increases in the two main ozone ingredients and imperil San Antonio’s compliance with federal smog rules.

    Apparently, the group’s public probing of the fracking-smog links didn’t sit too well with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The Austin American-Statesman reported on Monday:

    “The Texas environmental agency has frozen funding for a San Antonio area governmental coalition’s air quality improvement work after an official there publicly shared modeling results that suggested fracking contributed pollution to the city.

    “Last summer the Alamo Area Council of Governments made public a report that found that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Eagle Ford shale field endangers air quality in the San Antonio area – and, to a milder extent, the Austin area.

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