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Anti-fracking legislation is not premature

Commentator Harry Alford's claim that focusing on fracking legislation in Maryland constitutes a waste of time and effort suggests a shocking ignorance of what is happening in other states ("Anti-fracking legislation is premature," March 7). Maryland's proposed fracking bills are designed to create an orderly, safe process that states elsewhere have not achieved.

How can the Black Chamber of Commerce claim to seek economic empowerment for African-American communities, yet support the natural gas industry? Drilling for natural gas and oil has given rural areas in Wyoming levels of air pollution equivalent to those in Los Angeles.

In southwestern Pennsylvania a new health clinic was set up last year just to focus on the environmental health problems of people living near gas wells. Advocates for public health are constantly working to reduce the higher incidence of diseases among African-Americans, and new research shows that respiratory illness, developmental problems, and cardiovascular disease are linked to pollution.

Environmental injustice is when one group of people bears a disproportionate share of the negative consequences of industrial or commercial operations. This is exactly what is happening with fracking in other states. It is not the kind of economic empowerment that the National Black Chamber of Commerce should be promoting.

The time to insure that Marylanders are not victimized by sloppy industrial practices and poor state regulations is now, before fracking starts.

Mr. Alford characterizes natural gas as offering "so many benefits to our state" along with "no immediate risks." He is wrong.

Investing in natural gas diverts us from renewable energy sources. Natural gas wells and pipelines leak tremendous amounts of methane into the atmosphere, creating an immediate threat to air quality, posing danger from explosions and exacerbating emissions of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, claims of job creation are greatly overstated.

Mr. Alford is right about one thing: Maryland's study of fracking is just beginning, despite the fact that the governor's study commission has been in place since fiscal 2011.

This is why we need fracking legislation: To make sure those studies are conducted in a robust way, addressing human health and the full economic impact of drilling, including the costs of environmental damage.

Isn't economic empowerment something all Marylanders are entitled to, not just those who reap the profits from natural gas extraction? I am deeply concerned about the health disparities and economic inequities experienced by communities of color and low-income populations that are exposed to industrial pollution. I'm surprised that Mr. Alford and his organization are not.

Rebecca Ruggles

The writer is director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this letter included an incorrect description of research into the health effects of pollution. The Sun regrets the error.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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