“The waste has to go somewhere.” News report.
LaVernia, Texas residents in Wilson County don’t want that toxic waste dumped in their backyard. So they have organized to fight it and this weekend they had a BBQ fundraiser to raise money for legal fees.
Communities have good reason to fight these kind of facilities and the long-term impacts they bring. But there is a hard fact that communities need to consider: “The waste has to go somewhere.” Is displacing that waste to a less fortunate community a moral solution?
I would like to see communities develop a plan for either helping to mitigate–means lesson damage not eliminate it–the damage in the communities that are forced to accept the waste, or a plan for how they will structure their community to decrease their participation in the activities–rabid consumerism and energy intensive lifestyles–that drive the need for this destructive practice.
Hydraulic fracturing presents humbling moral dilemmas. One community’s victory creates a sacrifice zone of another community. I consider these dilemmas everyday while working with communities.
“The tables are turned. Americans aren’t used to being treated like they are the indigenous people being colonized. But that’s what’s happening.” So says Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, in a recent story about Pennsylvania’s controversial Act 13. The new law severely limits municipal authority to regulate shale gas development.
I heard a similar sentiment from Calvin Tillman, former mayor of Dish, Texas, when he visited my hometown of Denton to help us think about revisions to our drilling and production ordinance. He gave a powerful speech about the health impacts and property rights violations he saw as Dish became the crossroads of America’s natural gas “superhighway.”
But Price’s formulation oversimplifies the question of justice. Americans lead commodious, energy-intensive lives that are dependent on resources like natural gas. We all benefit indirectly from fracking because we need the gas.
We prefer not to see or think about the conditions that make our everyday lives replete with gadgets and appliances possible. But for Denton and other communities atop shale formations, the wall between background production and foreground consumption has collapsed.
The question of justice is muddied when people start protesting developments in their backyard that produce commodities they consume in their homes. In one way, this is a principled stand against a ruthless utilitarian calculus that would sacrifice the few to satisfy the many. But in another way, it is hypocrisy if the upshot is that we are happy to consume the goodies as long as the nasty processes that make them available are located in someone else’s backyard.
Many who protest fracking try to divorce the question of distributive justice from an examination of the way we live. This leads to powerful rhetoric about colonizing corporations and powerless locals. We “citizens of the shale” are fighting this colonization with one hand and – through our consumer choices – financing it with the other.
Adam Briggle is a philosophy and religion professor and chair of the Denton Stakeholder Drilling Advisory Group. He can be reached at Adam.Briggle@unt.edu