The 4 Minute Gap

Those of us watching the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court hearing yesterday were surprised when we were excluded from 4 minutes and 48 seconds of that virtual public hearing.

It turns out that Panel 2 of the Commonwealth Court yesterday morning, included a judge who was “fracker friendly” prior to becoming a judge on the court in January of last year.

Judge J. Andrew Crompton, whose current term runs from January 2020 to January 2022, was closely aligned with pro-fracking legislator Joe Scarnati for 12 years before being appointed to the court. 12 fracking years! Here’s his resume from the Commonwealth Court web site:

Professional Experience
  • Chief of Staff to President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and General Counsel to the Senate Majority Caucus, 2014-2019
  • Chief of Staff and Counsel to President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, 2009-2014
  • Chief of Staff and Counsel to Scarnati in his capacity as Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor/Board of Pardons Chairman, 2008-2011

Long story short, Judge Crompton helped craft and implement Pennsylvania’s onerous Act 13, you know, the one that allowed drilling and fracking in ALL zones of Pennsylvania, even including high end R1 Residential. Here is the text regarding those huge, football field sized impoundment dams: “A local ordinance: Shall authorize impoundment areas used for oil and gas operations as a permitted use in all zoning districts, provided that the edge of any impoundment area shall not be located closer than 300 feet from an existing building.”

Can you imagine having one of these toxic fracking waste impoundments, less than the length of a football field, including the end zones, from your front door?
(Click here for video)

An April 20, 2012 story by Susan Phillips of StateImpact Pennsylvania, describes Judge Crompton’s relationship and stance on Act 13, quite well here:

“One of the chief architects of the state’s new oil and gas law, known as Act 13, says critics are using a section of the law regarding doctors to further their anti-drilling agenda. At issue is a portion of the bill that requires doctors to sign nondisclosure agreements if they need access to proprietary or trade secret information in order to treat a patient who may have come in contact with frack water, or drilling waste water. Some doctors have raised ethical issues about the provision, calling it a “gag rule.” Both the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health and the Pennsylvania Medical Society have issued statements that doctors will be able to share that information with their patients and public health officials. But a health law expert says the language is too vague. Drew Crompton is an aide to Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati and helped craft the bill. Crompton says those who are raising questions about the law have an anti-drilling bias and are using it to further their agenda. “Not to discredt those who are sincerely looking out for the well being of others,” said Crompton, “but I think they’re making a mountain out of a molehill. These allegations are coming from people who don’t appreciate the industry and want to voice their opinion against it.” Crompton says no lawmakers, whether Democrats or Republicans, raised any issues about the provisions while it was getting debated in Harrisburg. He says the intent of the law is to protect patients, not the industry.”

“Making a mountain out of a molehill” says he. Really?

Gagging doctors so they can’t share critical information to treat other patients, all because the fracking industry wants to keep their proprietary chemicals secret. They shouldn’t be secret in the first place! Meantime, we have unexplained clusters of teenagers who are dying, in our southwest corner of Pennsylvania, from Ewing Sarcoma, for God’s sake! The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an entire series on those heartbreaking stories, while the state of Pennsylvania is still in the midst of a health study to determine why that happened. There are also scores of peer reviewed health studies pointing to the health hazards of living anywhere close to drilling and fracking, and this judge wants to call it “making a mountain out of a molehill.” How sad and pitiful is that?

Getting back to yesterday’s Commonwealth Court hearing, you can now see why attorney John M. Smith, of the Smith Butz law firm in Canonsburg, began his argument on behalf of a group of citizens, known as the Murrysville Watch Committee, who are concerned about fracking being permitted in their residential zones, requested that Judge Crompton recuse himself from the panel.

This is where a nearly 5 minute gap in the virtual hearing took place, as the audience was muted from hearing the arguments regarding Judge Crompton’s recusal. An edited public hearing? Wassup with that? Will those arguments be made part of a future transcript of the hearing, for the public to see?

Finally, should Judge Crompton recuse himself? Hell Yes!
From this case and all others related to drilling and fracking.
Bob

UPDATE: The 4-minute gap has now been added to this story in the TRIB:
https://triblive.com/local/westmoreland/technical-error-omits-discussion-of-judges-recusal-from-commonwealth-court-livestream/

BELOW: Spring 2021 photos of fracking in Washington County, Pennsylvania
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