Yesterday, I had the pleasure of traveling with actor Mark Ruffalo and “Gasland” director Josh Fox to Washington, D.C., to lobby on the issue of hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) – a highly controversial technique used to extract natural gas. Fracking has been linked to contaminated water, exploding wells, and other environmental and health risks around the country.
We wanted our trip to drum up some media attention for the risks fracking poses (aided by the pre-Oscar buzz – Mark is up for best supporting actor in “The Kids Are All Right” and Josh Fox’s “Gasland” is nominated for Best Documentary). But we also wanted to elevate the issue with key members of Congress and call for the passage of national legislation that would revoke the troubling statutory exemptions fracking now enjoys under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and several other federal environmental laws.
Here’s my travel log for the day – a first-hand glimpse of what it is like to lobby with celebrities in D.C.:
5:00 a.m.: Wake up to catch 6 o’clock train to D.C. Briefly feel like a hero until I see throngs of New Yorkers flowing into Penn Station to go to work early.
6:00 a.m.: Coincidentally bump into Mark and Josh on the Acela train. Mark looks very sharp in suit. Surprised how few people on the train recognized him (that would not last too long).
8:50 a.m.: Arrive at Union Station. Learn that this is Mark’s first time ever in Washington!
8:55 a.m.: Meet up with Trish Adlesic and Matthew Sanchez, a producer for and the editor of Gasland, respectively, along with Jessica Ennis from Earthjustice (who arranged the lobby visits) and Dusty Horwitt from the Environmental Working Group. Head to Hart Senate Office Building.
9:12 a.m. (roughly): Women staffers blow kisses to Mark from behind glass doors of unnamed senator’s office. Realize this won’t be just any normal lobby day.
9:15 a.m.: First lobbying meeting of the day with Senator Al Franken. Yes, he was funny, but also very tuned in to the concerns surrounding fracking.
10:00 am: Press conference with Congressmen Maurice Hinchey, Rush Holt, and Jared Polis in front of the Capitol to announce plans to reintroduce federal legislation – known as the “FRAC” Act – that would federally regulate this drilling technique. Enjoying the absolutely beautiful day (high of 64) and realize Mark’s star power revving up when I see a Hill reporter ask for his autograph. Mark asserts that fracking is not safe and, based upon 2008 data, actually led to a rise in unemployment in those areas where fracking has taken place.
(l to r) Mark Ruffalo,with Congressmen Polis and Hinchey and Gasland Director Josh Fox
11:45 a.m.: Fourteen-minute lunch in the bowels of the Senate office complex. Great salad bar and second iced tea of the day (very key)! Wolf down my lunch and talk to French TV journalists who follow Josh around all day with a hand-held camera and that fuzzy microphone at the end of a long pole. (Apparently, fracking is becoming a big issue in France right now. Who knew?)
12:00 p.m.: Meeting with staffers from Senator Kerry’s office (and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). Josh says in meeting that the push for clean, renewable energy “is the civil rights movement of our generation” – a theme he will return to several times during the day. I am moved by beautiful metal bust of the late Senator Edward Kennedy at far end of the ornate conference room.
12:52 p.m.: Very fast meeting with staffer from Senator Gillibrand’s office.
1:10 p.m.: Meeting with staff from newly-elected Senator Manchin of West Virginia’s office. Pleasantly surprised when the Senator himself shows up 10 minutes into the meeting.
1:46 p.m.: Friendly meeting with staffer from Senator Schumer’s office. Schumer was lead co-sponsor of the FRAC Act last year.
2:25 p.m.: Meeting at office of newly-elected Congressman Tom Marino, whose district covers Dimock, PA – a rural town where gas drilling has industrialized the rural landscape and caused significant damage to people’s property and lives.
2:51 p.m.: Hustle off to next meeting with Congressman Rush Holt. Trailing behind Mark. I once again hear the familiar, hushed, “isn’t that what’s his name…” from staffers/visitors in the hallway.
2:52 p.m.: Meeting with Congressman Holt himself. Cool decorations/posters/books in cramped office. Holt is really smart and impressive and nice. He is also one of the leaders of the House’s Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition.
3:29 p.m.: One of Josh's messages he repeated throughout the day is that a recent EPA study estimates that greenhouse gas emissions from fracking are nearly 9000 times what EPA used to think they were.
4:23 p.m.: Last meeting of the day with very nice staffer from Senator Harry Reid’s office. Everyone dragging a touch….
5:10 p.m.: Rush over in cab with Mark to meet Suzanne Struglinski from NRDC’s D.C. communication team at Good Stuff Eatery. She arranged for a national newspaper to interview Mark and helped make the day a success. Take picture of Mark and waitress on iPhone and send it to her with subject “my boyfriend.” She can’t wait to send to her family….
6:15 p.m.: Arrive at E Street Cinema for free D.C. screening of Gasland. Event co-sponsored by NRDC, Earthjustice, the Environmental Working Group, and Food and Water Watch. Ramsay Adams from Catskill Mountinkeeper – a leading group on this issue – is also there. NRDC founder John Adams, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama this week, welcomes the crowd and introduces Mark, Josh and Trish.
9:30 p.m.: Film very well-received and interesting Q & A session ends the evening. Even though I’ve seen the movie multiple times, I am still taken aback by the power of its message.
9:45 p.m.: Low key after-party at Gordon Biersch, a nice D.C. brewpub. Time to catch up a touch with NRDC’s Rob Perks and Melissa Waage, who did tremendous job in arranging the Gasland screening on tight timeschedule. Thanks!
11:01 p.m.: Go to Bed.
But even though I went to bed (and slept soundly after marathon 18-hour day) this issue has not been put to rest – far from it. Fracking remains a very controversial technique and, despite great lobbying efforts by Mark and Josh yesterday, passage of new federal legislation will be an uphill battle. (Putting aside all the work that needs to be done at the state and local levels in the coming years.) Still, it was a successful day and helped to shine more light on this contentious drilling process.