It wasn’t even a ham sammich …

It wasn’t even a ham sammich …

The old line from the 1970s is that prosecutors have so much influence over grand juries that they could get them to indict a ham sandwich.

But in a “case” we’ll call Shapiro v. The Pennsylvania Natural Gas Industry, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro appears to have found more bun than ham.

As the Tribune-Review reports it:

“A scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report two years in the making blasted the state departments of Environmental Protection and Health, alleging years of turning a blind eye to complaints against the oil and gas industry left residents exposed to harmful water and air pollution that caused nosebleeds, mysterious sores and myriad other ailments.”

The 243-page report makes for compelling reading. And, indeed, the same grand jury previously recommended criminal charges against two shale gas producers for violations of state environmental laws.

But even the AG concedes that much of his incendiary final report relied on “anecdotal evidence.” Nonetheless, Shapiro pre-emptively chastises the industry for any attempt to fight back, calling such pushback “bogus” while defending his and the grand jury’s work.

“(The industry is) going to say … there’s no proof that any of this was really caused by fracking,” Shapiro said during a news conference announcing the report. “They’ll roll out so-called experts that they’ve paid. They’ll hold up all the donations they’ve made to the community. They’ll say, ‘Where did this water really come from?’ They’re going to ask you when the pictures were really taken.”

Well, yes, they will. And with good reason. Such allegations sans proof tend to be taken as a smear by those smeared. Isn’t it the job of the prosecutor to gather such “proof,” present it to a grand jury, then allow that body to determine if the target’s actions rise to criminality?

Of course, Shapiro not only took on the fracking industry, he took on the commonwealth apparatus that’s supposed to oversee the industry, claiming it fell far short of doing its job.

But are these not the same agencies that, for years, did their best to regulate the shale gas industry out of existence? These are the agencies supposedly in bed with Big Daddy Shale?

The very state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that the Shapiro-directed grand jury disemboweled exposed the report for its manifest flaws.

As the Post-Gazette reports it:

“The environmental agency said the report relies on ‘untested anecdotal accounts from a limited group of witnesses’ that ‘cannot and do not’ support the report’s sweeping conclusions about complex legal and scientific issues.

“Dates, times, places, sampling data, corroborating testimony from medical professionals and other crucial information are missing, the agency said. The report is ‘critical of today’s DEP regulatory program while demonstrating little knowledge or understanding of it.’”

Talk about a damning indictment. And, again, from an agency that, more than a few times, and under different iterations of leadership, signaled its utter contempt for the shale gas fracking industry.

But wait, there’s more ham-less bun here: Shapiro blames the DEP and state Department of Health for not dotting his “I’s” and crossing his “t’s” and forcing him to go the anecdotal route.

Really? We guess there’s “bogus” and then there’s “bogus.”

Let it be stipulated that shale gas extraction can be a dirty business. That’s why there are regulations in place to mitigate any detrimental environmental effects. If there are violations – and there have been – the industry should be held to account. It has been and it should continue to be.

But, as a matter of sound public policy, Shapiro and his grand jury appear to have done more to hurt than help the cause of sound environmental stewardship with the same dereliction it accuses its targets of.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).