Saturday, December 7, 2013
Thursday, December 5, 2013
There has been some confusion about ‘my voice’ on this blog and
elsewhere. Perhaps I am poorly spoken (I do mumble, but in this case I think I have been speaking too clearly...). Maybe I am
self-contradictory (but aren’t we all? “I am large. I contain multitudes”). But
maybe I am playing a role that is little understood– a role that is neither
academic nor activist – the role of field philosopher or public intellectual. I
speak as a new species of ‘researcher’ but it is not clear if anyone has ears
for this kind of knowledge –if even the university can hear the voice of its
new offspring. Or perhaps she can hear, but is not sure if she wants to claim
THAT as her child.
The activist says ‘do not think the other side’s thoughts.’
The academic says ‘do not think from a side at all.’ But sideways thinking is
all there is. The trick is to think from this side and that. The public
intellectual seeks strong objectivity. Remember the words of J.S. Mill:
“But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an
opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the
existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those
who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of
exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a
benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by
its collision with error.”
Here is an opinion that I have heard from some in the
fracking business - to be clear the entire rest of the post is me channeling the voice - the side - of this industry perspective...(the question is what do you make of it?):
“It’s not fair, all this focus on drilling and fracking. Don’t
people realize that Denton is full of polluting activities? Just look at all
the cars and trucks. Don’t they realize that the Peterbilt plant alone emits 270
tons of VOCs every year? City Council approves
a tax abatement to enlarge the facility for Tetrapak, one of the larger
producers of emissions in town. And there is no news about that. Indeed, people
congratulate them. But they vilify us. Us! Providers of tax revenues and
royalties – would the airport exist without US?!
"THERE IS A DOUBLE STANDARD HERE. Fracking is not benign,
sure. But it is just the peas in a chemical soup – a risk soup – that we swim
in all the time. Do Dentonites realize there is arsenic in their playgrounds? And
what is in their food – what chemicals in their children’s clothes? They think
it is safe to travel sixty-five miles per hour down the road just a few feet
from other cars going the same speed, but more than 30,000 people die in
traffic accidents in the U.S. every year. How many people have died of
fracking?! No one, or at least nothing even remotely comparable to the carnage
on our roads – a carnage they calmly accept and that can’t even get them to
bat an eyelash any longer. Yet they froth at the mouth about fracking…
"Do you know what is happening here? This is all a temporary and
irrational fear of the new. When the automobile first arrived on the scene,
some cities passed ordinances requiring all cars to be preceded by men waving
flags and blowing horns to warn people. That’s hysteria. And in the case of
fracking it may even be worse, because this is fear of what only appears to be new, because fracking has
been around a long time. All these opponents of fracking might think they are liberals,
but they embrace what Michael Oakeshott called the “conservative disposition,”
which is “to prefer the familiar to the unknown.” The only thing wrong with
fracking is its perceived newness. People worry about it when they daily accept
far greater risks without a single thought, simply because those risks are
familiar. People are not yet accustomed to fracking. But just give them time. How
does the saying go…? “Men can get used to anything…”"
Saturday, November 30, 2013
It's true that I could have done more research prior to venturing into this topic. But I was hoping to generate a conversation and collaborative fact-finding mission (and I am glad to see the Facebook thread is starting to generate just the kind of information we need to pursue this issue).
I am not going to apologize for asking questions, and I don't think there was anything frantic or persecuting about them. But I
would like to elaborate on my questions in a way that makes my concerns
I am one among many
who are frustrated by how hard it has been to get regulations in place that adequately
protect core values like public health, safety, and community integrity.
When I try to figure out why that is, I chalk it up to a mix
of two reasons: 1. Our elected officials agree with my conception of the common
good and did the best they could within the Texas and federal legal system, but
the system just doesn’t allow for what we think is best. 2. Our elected officials disagree with
me, but they are working from some other reasonable conception of the common
I never chalk
it up to: 3. Our elected officials are not working from any reasonable
conception of the common good, but are in fact seeking their own private gain.
That is, I never assume a conflict of interest, which I take to be
in this case: Using public office to reap private rewards.
I believe that everyone on City Council
approaches fracking (and all other policy issues) with nothing but a genuine
commitment to seek the common good (public interest) as they see it. That is my
default mentality, and it would take a lot to convince me otherwise.
OK, but what about this business with Mr. King? If I don’t
believe something is wrong here, why raise the questions?
It’s because on its surface this sure appears like a conflict of interest even though it may
not actually be a conflict of
interest. What I mean by “actual” here is not the facts about the
interests involved (e.g., what percentage of income counts as a conflict).
Rather, I mean a situation where a person’s moral judgment is biased by the
prospects of private gain. I could imagine someone in Mr. King’s situation
being able to set aside considerations of private gain when it comes time to
make a decision. If it was me, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I
let even the slightest consideration of private gain creep into such an
important public policy. I have no reason to believe Mr. King doesn’t share
that same basic impulse of conscience. I did not and am not impugning his
But I can also imagine myself in his situation and deciding
that it would be best to recuse myself on policies impacting EagleRidge. I
might think that, because people cannot have direct access to my moral
judgment, they may suspect that I am biased even though I would know I am not.
And this suspicion might undermine our public policy efforts.
That’s why my questioning was about the problematic appearance of a conflict here. That’s
why I wrote this at the end: “even apparent
conflicts of interest can be a problem, because they can undermine trust in
government and the legitimacy of its authority.”
The standstill negotiations are
a longshot, but at least they continue dialogue and the possibility of
improvements. But they are so fragile that this apparent conflict of interest
could derail them. They might produce something worthwhile, but the public
might dismiss the outcome because it resulted from a biased process – even if there
was no actual conflict (as I define it or as defined by legal facts).
I am trying to point to this potential problem and open a space to demonstrate
how there is no actual conflict of interest, which would make the appearance go
away. Sunshine is the best remedy for apparent conflicts of interest. Being
silent on this (even if one thinks it is baseless) is not going to help. And
even though it was disclosed earlier, it should be made public again given how
much renewed importance it has taken on.
Unfortunately, my earlier post
only fanned the flames I was hoping we could squelch with an open and honest
conversation. But perhaps it is not too late. And hopefully this post helps to
reset the tenor and focus of that conversation.
Friday, November 29, 2013
The City of Denton is currently in a period of negotiation with EagleRidge Energy. One of the architects of this deal is City Councilmember James King. Claims have recently been made that Mr. King owns minerals on wells operated by EagleRidge. These photographs would seem to corroborate those claims.
We need Mr. King to publically address this issue. Does he own mineral rights on wells operated by Eagleridge Energy? If so, how much does he make and how much could he stand to make in the future if EagleRidge fares well? Why has he not recused himself from policy decisions pertaining to EagleRidge?
We deserve answers to these questions. It is important for him to recognize that even apparent conflicts of interest can be a problem, because they can undermine trust in government and the legitimacy of its authority.
Mr. King: Please clue us in.