When the Fracking Boom Goes Bust, Local Economies Feel the Pain

A steady dip in natural gas prices has forced drilling companies to lay off workers and shut down operations across Pennsylvania. And in drilling hotspots, that has led to big changes in local economies.

Case in point: Jerry Lee Edwards of Waynesburg. He opened a clothing store for oil and gas workers in 2014. At first, his inventory of coveralls, heavy-duty work pants and fire-resistant shirts was selling great. But things took a turn as drilling companies began slashing budgets, cutting hours and laying off workers.

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It’s a similar story in other areas of the economy. Hotels, RV Parks and restaurants were once filled with out-of-state gas workers. Now, state records show Pennsylvania has lost more than 10,000 jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Edwards says many see the industry rebounding—eventually—when prices for natural gas start to go back up again. But he won’t be waiting around. Now 73, he’s decided to close his store and move on.

Reporting by Reid Frazier

 

Congress Set to Update 40-Year-Old Regulations on Toxic Chemicals

Forty years: That’s how long it’s been since Congress revised the major law governing regulation of toxic chemicals in the U.S. But now, lawmakers are looking to freshen up the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate chemicals in the products we buy, like mattresses and plastic toys.

“We’ve wanted to update this law for a long time,” says Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group. “To be honest, the reason it’s happening now is because of pressure from industry. Industrial officials have said again and again that the public has lost complete confidence in the safety of chemicals. And one reason I think is because these chemicals are showing up in their environment.”

Cook says the system we have now amounts to “regulation by retailer.” That’s when companies change their practices based more on consumer demands than government regulation.

“Companies that are in the frontlines, facing consumers, are basically saying, ‘Well, we’re not going to sell products if consumers don’t accept them,’” Cook says. “So they’re going back up the supply chain, back up to the chemical companies, saying, ‘We don’t want sippy cups with phthalates in them.’”

Despite these voluntary changes, Cook says there’s still a need for government regulation. And he says chemical companies have spent millions lobbying Congress to make sure the update to the Toxic Substances Control Act is to their liking.

“It’s not going to make consumers happy,” Cook says. “And I think it’s, in the end, going to be opposed by almost everybody in the environmental movement.”