FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 1, 2011
Contact: Leigh Fifelski, 517-999-3646
LANSING, MI–The Chair of a new state House panel created this week that is responsible for protecting Michigan’s waters from a highly controversial natural gas drilling method dubbed “fracking,” has close and extensive ties to oil and gas industry lobbying and advocacy groups, state and federal records show.
“Representative Aric Nesbitt and accountability are like water and oil – they just don’t mix,” said David Holtz, Executive Director of Progress Michigan. “The people of Michigan deserve to have a reliable, unbiased leader making decisions about strong regulations on natural gas drilling that will uphold accountability, transparency and the highest safety standards. Instead, the person making those decisions is clearly aligned with the natural gas industry with a record of putting their profits first, not the safety of Michigan families. The people of Michigan deserve better.”
Nesbitt was recently appointed Chair of the state House Natural Gas Subcommittee, which is responsible for oversight on natural gas drilling in Michigan.
State and federal records show that Nesbitt received campaign contributions in 2010 from nine political action committees with ties to energy industries, including natural gas distributors. Among his top contributors are four people with connections to the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm Valenti & Associates, which has spent $1.612 million lobbying on behalf of North American Coal since 2001. The donors include the firm’s CEO, Mark Valenti, who served on the Bush-Cheney energy transition team in 2001. Valenti and other employees of the lobbying firm gave Nesbitt $1,450 in his crowded, six-way 2010 Republican primary contest. Other energy industry related contributions to Nesbitt’s campaign include $500 from James and Mary Ann Middaugh. James Middaugh lists his employment as community relations for Entergy, one of the nation’s largest operators of nuclear plants, with reactors in eight states. 
Nesbitt also served as chief aide for the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus in Washington, a congressional group supportive of the natural gas industry. The group is chaired by Congressman Tim Murphy, R-Pa., whom Nesbitt worked for from 2009-2010. 
Nesbitt is a member of ALEC, the controversial right-wing corporate advocacy group whose board members include Koch Industries, a Big Oil company. He serves on the Nuclear Energy Workgroup of the National Conference of State Legislators. Nesbitt sponsored the state House resolution opposing regulation of greenhouse gases by the Environmental Protection Agency – measures that help save lives and help create jobs.
Citizens groups have called for a delay on natural gas drilling until strong regulations are in place. Those regulations must include:
- Gas companies must follow all state laws regarding water withdrawals – something they are currently exempt from.
- Gas companies must disclose up front all chemicals used in the drilling process.
- Strong water quality management practices must be in place.
- The permitting process must include a full public participation process, which currently doesn’t exist.
- All wells, pipelines, equipment, seismic activity and radioactive traces in water must be regularly inspected and monitored.
- Air pollution controls must be implemented, including requiring use of idling limits, clean diesels, electric and alternative fueled vehicles, and controlling flares and venting of methane
- Require a study of total cumulative impacts of natural gas operations in the state, including on water withdrawals, spills, contamination, methane and other emissions, and other impacts.
Gas companies are targeting deposits in deeper formations of up to 10,000 feet that would require more chemicals and 100 times more water for fracking. New MDEQ permit changes only ask companies to some, but not full, data on water and chemicals used, and lacks a public accountability measure.