The Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox was handcuffed and arrested Wednesday as he attempted to film a congressional hearing on the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as fracking, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently reported caused water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. Fox directed the award-winning film, “Gasland,” which documents the impact of fracking on communities across the United States, and is now working on a sequel. Fox says he was arrested after Republicans refused to allow him to film because he did not have the proper credentials. “We wanted to report on what happened [at the hearing]. I was not interested in disrupting that hearing. It was not a protest action,” says Fox. “I was simply trying to do my job as a journalist and go in there and show to the American people what was transpiring in that hearing, so that down the line, as we know there will be a lot of challenges mounted to that [Pavillion, Wyoming] EPA report—and frankly, to the people in Pavillion, who have been sticking up for themselves and demanding an investigation into the groundwater contamination—and to make sure that people could view that in a larger forum than usually happens.”
Josh Fox, director of the documentary film, Gasland, which was nominated for an Academy Award. He was arrested on Feb. 1 as he attempted to film a congressional hearing on natural gas fracking.
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Juan Gonzalez: The Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Josh Fox was handcuffed and arrested Wednesday as he attempted to film a congressional hearing on the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as fracking. Fox directed the award-winning documentary Gasland and is now working on a follow-up. Fox says he was arrested after Republicans refused to allow him to film because he did not have the proper credentials.
Video was posted online showing Fox being escorted out of the hearing room in handcuffs. This is what the room sounded like at that moment. You can hear lawmakers debate the arrest and Josh Fox exclaiming, quote, “I’m within my First Amendment rights, and I’m being taken out.” Listen closely.
Capitol Police Officer 1: Do you want to leave your camera, sir? You’re under the same rules as the regular staff.
Josh Fox: I have said it several times, no.
Capitol Police Officer 1: OK. Do your duty, Officer.
Capitol Police Officer 2: All right. Sir, turn around and put your hands behind your back.
Unidentified: Oh, come on. Come on. Come on, Mr. Chairman.
Unidentified: What’s the decision? You’re arresting him?
Rep. Brad Miller: Mr. Chairman, can we discuss this before the Capitol police take action at your direction without debate in front of the committee, or the subcommittee?
Josh Fox: This is a public hearing. I’m within my First Amendment rights, and I’m being taken out.
Rep. Brad Miller: No, I’d rather do it here.
Rep. Andy Harris: The meeting is not—I haven’t [inaudible] the meeting.
Rep. Brad Miller: Well, but before the meeting has begun and before the subcommittee has had a chance to discuss the issue, this guy is being led away in handcuffs. I’d like to move that he be allowed to film the—film this meeting.
Rep. Andy Harris: The motion [inaudible]. We’re not in the hearing.
Rep. Brad Miller: Well, then, can you gavel the hearing in, before this guy is—
Rep. Andy Harris: That’s at my discretion.
Amy Goodman: Moments after director [Josh] Fox was arrested inside the hearing in the House Subcommittee on Science, Space, and Technology, the subcommittee’s chair, Republican Congress Member Andy Harris of Maryland, defended the decision to have the filmmaker removed.
Rep. Andy Harris: Nine, the following shall apply to coverage of committee meetings or hearings by audio-visual means. Subsection J is very clear. Personnel providing coverage by the television and radio media shall be currently accredited to the radio and television correspondents’ galleries, and that personnel providing coverage by still photography shall be currently accredited to the press photographers’ galleries. Obviously, someone who records this hearing—records this hearing is to be credentialed. I will remind the members of the audience and the ranking member that on the House floor, you can’t even bring a cell phone into the gallery. So we’re allow—we allow cell phones here, but we do draw the line at what recording devices, when you use a recording device, that you have to be credentialed.
Amy Goodman: Democrats on the committee attempted to postpone the hearing a week in order to give Josh Fox time to acquire the proper credentials. Congress Member Brad Miller of North Carolina is the top Democrat on the subcommittee.
Rep. Brad Miller: Mr. Chairman, I move, in addition to the fellow who was just escorted out, who I understand was not credentialed, although he’s, I understand, filming an HBO documentary—an ABC crew showed up earlier, and they were turned away on the stated reason that they had not requested to film in advance. I think all those rules are to control access where there’s limited access. It is very clear that we have space in this room for either of them to testify—or to film this hearing. If you claim that that rule does not provide—does not allow them to film or, more accurately, allows you the discretion, the majority, the power to turn them away, I move that the rules be suspended to the end that the HBO—the fellow who wanted to film for HBO be allowed to film this hearing and that ABC News be allowed to film this hearing, and all God’s children be allowed to fill this hearing, until the room is too full to conduct our business.
Juan Gonzalez: Wednesday’s hearing focused on a recent Environmental Protection Agency draft report that linked contaminated water supplies in Wyoming to chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. While a lobbyist from the Western Energy Alliance testified at Wednesday’s hearing, no local residents impacted by the water contamination were invited to speak.
Amy Goodman: Joining us now from Washington, D.C., is filmmaker Josh Fox. With us also via Democracy Now! video stream is John Fenton, who is a Wyoming farmer and chair of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens.
Josh, it’s good to have you out of jail. Explain exactly why you were in that hearing yesterday and what happened, as we listen to the debate between the Democrats and the Republicans as you were being handcuffed by police and taken out of the room.
Josh Fox: Good morning, Amy and Juan. And certainly, hi to John Fenton. Nice to see you.
Well, basically, I was there to report on a story that I’ve been following very closely for three-and-a-half years. John and his fellow people from Pavillion, I’ve been documenting their cases of water contamination for three years, and it’s featured in the first film, Gasland. We continue to feature that in Gasland 2. So, this was a crucial hearing for us to tape, because what was going on there was a clear and brazen attack on the EPA and on the meticulous three-and-a-half-year investigation that took place in the small town of Pavillion, Wyoming, to expose a link between fracking and groundwater contamination. And this is the first case in which EPA has come out and said, at least in this last 10 years, that the likely cause of groundwater contamination was fracking.
And what was apparent to us was that this was going to be an attack on science from within the science and technology committee, that they had a panel that was stuffed with gas industry lobbyists, that there was—this was actually a way of trying to dismantle this EPA report. We wanted to be there to show that that was what the agenda was. We wanted to report on what happened. I was not interested in disrupting that hearing. It was not a protest action. I was simply trying to do my job as a journalist and go in there and show to the American people what was transpiring in that hearing, so that down the line, as we know there will be a lot of challenges mounted to that EPA report—and frankly, to the people in Pavillion, who have been sticking up for themselves and demanding an investigation into the groundwater contamination—and to make sure that people could view that in a larger forum than usually happens.
Juan Gonzalez: And Josh, the attacks have come not only through this congressional investigation on the EPA report, but also from local press in Wyoming, as well? Obviously, there are huge implications nationwide for what the results of this study show.
Josh Fox: Well, virtually every Republican candidate right now is out for elimination of the EPA, which shows the deep, deep influence of oil and gas on Congress and on the Republican Party. So, what you’re seeing here happening is a war between the federal agency, which is well funded and impartial, in a certain sense, or more impartial, and the state regulatory agencies, which, as we’ve investigated, and we will show quite thoroughly, I think, in Gasland 2, have an enormous amount of influence and pressure on them from oil and gas, to the point to which many, many people think that they’re corrupt. So getting the EPA out of the way is one of these ways that you completely dismantle the regulatory system, and that’s why the EPA is the target here.
Amy Goodman: I want to turn to President Obama’s recent comments about natural gas drilling. This is what he said just last week in his State of the Union address.
President Barack Obama: We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use, because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk. The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy. And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock, reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.
Amy Goodman: That was President Obama in the State of the Union address. Josh Fox, director of Gasland?
Josh Fox: That was actually quite, I think, a very painful moment for a lot of people who have been focusing on gas fracking for the last several years. I think the President’s statements right there are wrong. I mean, it’s very clear that we do not have a hundred years’ worth of natural gas, and certainly not if we want to start using it in cars and trucks. And it has been—it’s very, very unclear, in the science, whether or not this fracking technique can be done safely. And in my research, it shows itself to be inherently contaminating. And there is no proof to think that we could be doing this gas extraction safely.
On the other hand, what the President did say was that he was in support of the disclosure of the chemicals, which is to say, the reversal of the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act that the gas industry was granted in 2005. They were made exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which stated that—in the 2005 energy bill, allowing them to inject toxic chemicals and toxic material into the ground without having to report that. So what he’s saying is, you can’t get away with not reporting and not disclosing the chemicals that you’re pumping into the ground. However, when we look at the industry’s own reports, and it shows that 40 percent of their wells have integrity issues—that is to say, the well casing that protects the groundwater cracks in 40 percent of the cases over a short period of time, and in a larger percentage over a longer period of time—this is basically surrendering those areas to groundwater contamination, either in the short term or in the long term.
So, I think that this is obviously an issue of an enormous amount of importance. And there’s no way you can actually just start galloping down this road of natural gas. What this means is a further delay in our transition to a renewable energy economy. And when you look at what Obama’s EPA is doing, they’re extremely aggressive. They have actually been very responsive. I mean, John could probably talk about that. EPA just delivered water to people in the town of Dimock, which suffered a similar kind of water contamination as happened in Pavillion. And they have been stepping up to the plate. So this is why you’re seeing the Republicans attacking EPA, which is the part of Obama’s policy which I agree with wholeheartedly.
Amy Goodman: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. Josh Fox with us, director Gasland, now making Gasland 2 for HBO, was arrested yesterday, handcuffed and taken out of a House hearing on the EPA and fracking. When we come back, Josh will also be joined by John Fenton, a Wyoming farmer. They’re now shipping in water for people to drink and cook with in his area of Wyoming called Pavillion. Stay with us.