Annapolis Update — 2/16/12

Friends,

It was a busy week in Annapolis: my bill to treat intersections with non-functioning traffic signals as four-way stops passed the House today, and on Wednesday I had hearings for both my wastewater fracking and conflict minerals bills. As I wrote previously, I don’t think industry has proven that fracking–a process of natural gas extraction–can be done safely. Indeed, we have seen it contaminate water in Wyoming and cause earthquakes in Ohio, not to mention numerous surface accidents in Pennsylvania and other states.

That being the case, I am concerned that passing regulations and taxes may bring us closer to fracking in western Maryland.  Instead, until a safe method for extracting natural gas from Marcellus Shale is developed, we should work on legislation to protect our citizens and water supply. To me, the best way to do this would be to ban the process. But even with a ban, current law allows fracking wastewater from other states to be imported into Maryland, risking environmental degradation and public health as a result; that is why HB 296 is so important.

Finally, even if a safe way to extract natural gas from Marcellus Shale is developed, we still should not over-rely on so-called ‘bridge fuels’. (It is important to remember: natural gas–when you include the extraction process–has a carbon footprint similar to coal.) Rather, we must focus on improving the viability of renewable alternatives.  If we fail to pivot our focus, we will be stuck with an antiquated economy, lose the opportunity to create a new job-creating industry, and continue our reliance on overseas fuel.

As for conflict minerals, I was honored to have members of the Congolese diaspora show up in support of the bill on Wednesday.  The conflict in the Congo–specifically, our part in it–has been ignored for too long.  This bill would bring Maryland in line with federal legislation that requires corporations to disclose the source of the minerals in their supply chains. It would also ensure that minerals in our electronic hardware come from mines that benefit–rather than destroy–communities.  Additionally, it shows our Congolese District 39 brothers and sisters who fled because of the conflict, that we care, we will do what we can to help end the senseless violence, and we welcome and value their role in our vibrant community.

Lastly, as I write this we are preparing for a special evening session to debate marriage equality. Over the past months, I have heard from countless constituents on both sides; it is clear people are passionate about this issue. Whatever happens over the coming days, I hope this doesn’t divide our community.  To those who have called and written urging me to vote ‘no’: I hope you continue to contact me in the future, and appreciate that while we disagree on this issue we can collaborate on others. To those who have phoned or reached out to thank me for my support, know this: it is you who deserve the gratitude. The reason this bill may pass is not because of the work of legislators, but rather the tireless grassroots efforts of constituents; let’s hope love wins out.

Stay tuned for more following the vote, and thank you for allowing me the honor of representing you.

Best,
Shane