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Fracking brings out the worst in us

I’ve spent the last two decades of my life living in two states that take their relationships with the government to a logical extreme.

One is Vermont, where no form of federal intervention is unwelcome. Vermont has a Democratic majority, to put it mildly. Its leaders rarely protest government regulation and they positively welcome environmental restrictions. Many Vermont residents view big box stores and franchises as a threat to their rural way of life – so many of them that residents of Montpelier, the state capital,  blocked McDonald’s from moving downtown some years ago.

That’s a triumph for people who want to see the state’s 18th- and 19th-century downtowns thrive. But that philosophy creates an inconvenience for locals who have to drive 40 miles to find inexpensive socks.

In Idaho, of course, it’s the idea of self-reliance that is taken to a logical extreme. Most of Idaho’s policymakers seem to believe that nobody should interfere with business. This plays out beautifully for many. Want to put the backside of big box stores on the scenic edge of a famous canyon? Go ahead – the Twin Falls Planning and Zoning Commission this spring approved a variance for that at Snake River Canyon, despite protests.

For others, the belief in self-reliance is not working out so well. For instance, in 2011, Idaho legislators cut Medicaid spending by $34.5 million. Just $1.5 million of that was restored this year, despite stories from disabled adults  who are doing without essential services.

Strangely, Vermont and Idaho have a lot in common. Both have a strong tradition of hunting and fishing. Both are famed for their natural beauty and are home to ski resorts that attract well-heeled outsiders. Both sport a deeply divided political majority and a glum, disenfranchised minority that struggles to make its voice heard over the ideology-based commands from the political leaders.

And now both have demonstrated a complete lack of sense on the subject of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is the pressurized release of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to stimulate the release of natural gas.

Idaho demonstrated this lack of sense this spring, when its Republican majority lawmakers voted to limit local control of drilling projects for oil and natural gas.

Vermont took its own wayward path a few weeks ago, when its Democratic majority voted to ban all fracking. Mind you, there’s no fracking present or planned in Vermont, and the scientists (including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) still haven’t said how much fracking damages the land and the water.

Fracturing the land in a quest for fuel is a serious issue, and it needs attention. But it needs thoughtful attention, not silly measures by extremists. Good policymaking on a scientific matter should be based on data-driven studies that show true costs and benefits, not knee-jerk ideology.

Anne Wallace Allen is managing editor of Idaho Business Review



About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.


  1. I would agree that Vermont’s ban on all fracking is an ill informed, silly, and probably a merely symbolic protest against energy development in all its forms, Not sure the same can be said of Idaho’s decision to limit local (e.g., city and county) control of the permitting and approval process for fracking projects. It seems very reasonable to remove local politics, influence (and potential corruption and favoritism) from this process and to create an objective (and science based) statewide standard for review and approval of these projects. I believe that is the intent of the Idaho legislation. Given Idaho’s mistrust of our federal government I doubt the plan is to simply defer to EPA or other federal agency meddling. I don’t think many in Idaho would disagree that most governmental decisions in Vermont (state or local) are nutty. I don’t think it’s fair to lump Idaho together with Vermont on this one, however.

  2. I’m confused. I thought your coments said that we need to use common sense. So what is Mr. Tucker saying. Isn’t paying attention to science using common sense?

  3. Dear Ms. Allen:

    I am a small business owner and an escapee from the People’s Republic of California. A California resident for more than 35 years I watched helplessly (but not silently) as that state was made so hostile to business and to anyone with common sense that I left it to move to Idaho.

    Your call for reliance on federal government (EPA, for example) and government mandated public support for the unfortunate,as opposed to local state control and faith based support, brings back very unpleasant memories. I am sure that you are motivated by the highest ethical standards. I am also sure that if your way of thinking takes hold here, Idaho will go the way of California.

    I would not wish that on anyone.