19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.
State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.
On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:
Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.
A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.
The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.
Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, Colorado, Pennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill.