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Michigan Taxpayer Funds ‘FLOW’ to Anti-Fracking Cause

Americans are all too familiar with their hard-earned tax money being thrown out the window for foolish endeavors. We see politicians in Washington, D.C. do this all the time, and taxpayers are used to hearing about their federal dollars “hard at work.” But what about local taxpayer dollars? Who is making sure that politicians are not misusing public funds at the local level?

Apparently no one, because taxpayers funds in Michigan are being used to finance anti-fracking advocacy.

Take a look at Livingston County’s Conway Township, where local politicians apparently feel that their residents are not able to come to their own conclusions about hydraulic fracturing. The township used taxpayer money to hire a group called For Love Of Water (FLOW), to “educate” the public through the form of a so-called protective ordinance package, which is a set of rules and regulations that considerably restrict oil and gas development. In other states, anti-fracking groups have used prohibitive ordinances as a clever means of banning drilling.

Perhaps unbeknownst to the Township, FLOW works hand in glove with known anti-fracking activist groups. Last year, FLOW teamed up with Food & Water Watch, 350.org, and the Sierra Club — all groups that campaign against fracking — to promote “Gasland Part II,” the anti-fracking film that calls for a ban on U.S. oil and gas development. Donors to FLOW include the Park Foundation, an organization that has funneled millions of dollars to anti-fracking groups. Park has even been called a “hero for fracking opponents” by Inside Philanthropy.

FLOW’s “Fracking” web page links to a variety of anti-drilling literature, including a “Fracktivist’s Toolkit” that includes advice about “how to pass a resolution against fracking.” Another resource from FLOW is an anti-drilling website called “Don’t Drill the Hills.”

And when New York’s Governor made a political decision to ban fracking, FLOW republished a blogger’s proclamation that it was the “biggest fracking victory ever.”

That’s right: the voters in Livingston County’s Conway Township just watched their elected officials send thousands of their taxpayer dollars to a known anti-fracking group.

Conway Township isn’t the only place where taxpayer dollars were sent to the anti-fracking cause, either.  Other examples of this gross abuse of taxpayer funds are found in Gun Plain township in Allegan County, where taxpayers also footed the bill for FLOW to inform the county on how to shut down oil and gas development. FLOW actually has a dedicated webpage that identifies the cities and townships that paid for their anti-fracking services.

If a non-profit like FLOW wants to promote its materials to the public, it obviously has the right to do so. But should its political cause against fracking be rewarded with taxpayer dollars?  Wouldn’t that township money be better spent on infrastructure or other public use projects that truly serve the taxpayers?

In the April issue of Township Focus, the Michigan Township Association offered up these reminders:

“MTA Legal Counsel Catherine Kaufman, attorney at Bauckham, Sparks, Lohrstorfer, Thall and Seeber PC, says townships must first remember that the law specifically preempts them from enacting any zoning ordinances that attempt to regulate fracking.” (p. 18; emphasis added)

It would appear, then, that taxpayer dollars are being used not only to promote anti-fracking advocacy, but in a manner that also has a questionable legal basis.

Taxpayers deserve better from their elected officials at all levels of government. Regardless of what one may think of oil and natural gas development, it would be difficult for any individual to support the use of public funds to finance a political campaign against U.S. energy development.

But unfortunately for all too many Michigan taxpayers, that’s exactly what appears to be happening.

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