Sorry, it’s not hyperbole, it’s a plain fact. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is immoderate in that he loves industry and hates environmentalists — finding them ignorant, dishonest and wearisome. Listen to this 13-minute talk given by Mayor Luke in late 2012, explicit and in unimpeachable context:
(For the record, most political leaders actually seem to relish politics — whether that means working hard finding consensus among passionate parties, or else throwing in eagerly on one side and deftly rebuking criticism. They love the game itself, and sometimes the nobility of the democratic experiment on which it is founded. Of course, Post-Gazette columnist Brian O’Neill began wondering last month whether Ravenstahl is atypical in that he doesn’t seem to like his job, which indeed he sometimes performs as though somebody is holding a knife to his favorite kitten.)
Mayor Ravenstahl makes few points to the assembled natural gas industry stakeholders, the most oft-repeated being that we need to embrace the opportunity of the Marcellus Shale — embrace the benefit, embrace the jobs, embrace the supply chain, embrace the residential growth, embrace the commercial growth, embrace the embrace. Okay, fine.
Therefore Ravenstahl came to the energy summit to show the industry that “we need to educate those folks” in politics who are leery of opposition from environmentalists — “the meetings, the yelling and the screaming.” He says that “we need to be honest with ourselves about the opportunity” represented by natural gas drilling, instead of focusing on “politics.” Obviously a secondary reason he took part in the summit was to garner political recognition from a cash-rich industry, but apparently he does not recognize how that counts on the scales as “politics.”
Interestingly, Ravenstahl maintains that “we hear over and over again” about the negative impacts of natural gas drilling — but “not so much, from my perspective about the good it can do” regarding jobs and economic growth. I find myself wishing I lived on his street; it truly does seem to be peacefully secluded from the rest of the world.
So Luke Ravenstahl’s pro-drilling position is honest rational policy, whereas those who disagree with him are political, dishonest, self-serving and ignorant. At least this is consistent with his other positions on public matters: “Why do you have to be so political and unfortunate?”
Do not be misled by the moment around 01:35 when the Mayor alludes briefly to an “other extreme” which says “drill baby drill” and does not think about “ramifications.” It passed quickly. Ravenstahl had a golden opportunity here to strike a balanced approach and expand on those “ramifications,” providing the industry with assertive cautions about the need to fund oversight and enforcement, to allow for some local control of zoning and land use, or to fund and pay attention to the results of continued environmental impact research. It never remotely came up.
Ravenstahl’s strategy is to embrace the benefits of drilling now, and trust the industry to voluntarily improve whatever it is that might need improvement later and without political insistence. One could call this “backwards”, but the point here is only that Ravenstahl is no plain-spoken moderate in the middle — he is deftly providing cover for one side, the industry’s side.
And PLEASE!!!, do not be unduly distracted and sent snark-hunting amidst the weeds of a debate over the legality of the present citywide outright ban versus an alternative of replacing it with exclusionary zoning law. It is true that mayoral candidate Bill Peduto has recently underscored his commitment to the outright ban as necessary municipal activism against a state not doing its job protecting its communities. And it is true that mayoral candidate Michael Lamb prefers the less outwardly defiant, more subtle form of protection of exclusionary zoning. The debate over which is better is fascinating, with neither having a monopoly of being “right” or unquestionably constitutional absent a legal challenge.
Ravenstahl favors neither the ban on the books nor the zoning legislation on the table. Ravenstahl’s concern is to tarnish both efforts as political, dishonest and ignorant. Ravenstahl’s concern is to be an industry activist and to embrace the industry.
It is often suggested that the power to regulate oil and mineral extraction such as in the Marcellus Shale formation is naturally and properly a commonwealth issue — so it is the State Legislature’s job to protect us. Very good. How then can Pennsylvania ever be expected to “do its job” if leaders of great population and knowledge centers are shilling for the industry, taking money, and disparaging environmentalists?
Occasionally Mayor Ravenstahl uses environmentalist sentiment as a sweetener to win a subsidy or other support for a “green building”, that is, new construction. That’s fine. And he will accept grant money that is available to do a small-scale environmental demonstration project once in a while. Also nice and easy. But in the end, like civic design and principled opposition, environmentalism is just one of those things this mayor does not “get”.
Pittsburgh deserves that that should be well understood.