Journal Times editorial: Congress should take cues from recent fracking compromise

2013-04-03T00:12:00Z Journal Times editorial: Congress should take cues from recent fracking compromise Journal Times
April 03, 2013 12:12 am

Same old, same old.

The Democrat-controlled Senate last week passed its first federal budget in four years on a narrow vote, giving Washington, D.C., a brief respite from its ongoing highly partisan fiscal wars.

The Democrat plan aims to reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion over the next decade through an equal mix of tax increases and spending cuts.

The Republican plan engineered by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, who represents Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, seeks

$4.6 trillion in savings over that decade without raising taxes, but by making deep cuts in health care and social programs that aid the poor.

Don’t expect those polar positions to be resolved in conference negotiations anytime soon. While politicians on both sides said nice things about working with each other, if the recent past is any indication, they will simply use the disparate budget plans to extoll their own positions.

Perhaps the most cogent assessment of the differing plans was made last week by Sean West, U.S. policy director at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy who was quoted in a Reuters story saying, “The idea of conferencing them is kind of a joke. You would expect that if there were a chance of success, they wouldn’t have planted flags on completely different planets.”

Completely different planets. That’s a good description of the differences between Democrats and Republicans — and their constituencies — these past several years as they have practiced single-minded pursuit of their own ideals in a winner-take-all mentality that has hampered the ability of the nation to deal with its fiscal difficulties.

Both sides in their zealotry have forgotten the practice of compromise, the spirit of bipartisanship and its use in the practice of governing.

By our calendar, the lull in partisan bickering will end this summer when the two parties once again will go to their tactics of brinkmanship over raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

We bring up this lament because there is an alternate path — just not one we have seen coming out of Capitol Hill.

It came last week in Pittsburgh where environmentalists and oil and gas companies came to agreement on one of the most controversial topics — fracking — the injection of water and chemicals into the ground to recover vast quantities of oil and gas in what had been considered played-out areas.

Under the plan, the oil and gas industry agreed to tough new standards and independent third party review of their operations to assure air and water standards are protected.

According to news reports, many of the standards — for wastewater treatment, methane flaring, groundwater monitoring and use of less toxic fracking fluids — are stricter than state and federal regulations.

For the oil and gas industry, it means they can move ahead to recover hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas resources in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio while avoiding delays and costly statehouse battles.

For environmentalists, it means responsible development. As Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments, a charitable concern that has financed some of the fracking opposition, put it: “We do recognize that this resource is going to be developed. We think it can be done in a way that does not do violence to the environment.”

Lions and lambs, not zealots.

If gas and oil companies and environmentalists can practice the art of compromise and reach a reasoned resolution on a contentious issue like fracking — a resolution that serves both their interests and that of the public as well — isn’t it time Congress took a cue from that model?

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