Gas-drilling protesters converge on Harrisburg

    Harrisburg briefly took on the feel of Madison Tuesday afternoon when anti-drilling protesters staged a sit-in outside Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s office. Chants of “Corbett’s a coward!” and “Open the door!” rang out, as filmmaker Josh Fox and other environmental advocates unsuccessfully tried to schedule a meeting with the governor.

    Fox, whose Academy Award-nominated documentary “Gasland” has become a rallying point for drilling opponents, told reporters he’s been trying to meet with Corbett for months.

    “We have sent letters. We have sent emails. We have sent phone calls. We have sent letters on behalf of huge numbers of people. We have never received a response,” he said.

    Fox and the other protesters made their way to Corbett’s office after a noon rally in the Capitol rotunda organized by environmental groups Clean Water Action, PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club.

    Myron Arnowitt, Clean Water Action’s western Pennsylvania director, said he’s frustrated. “Drilling has been going on in Pennsylvania for almost four years now. And what has our state legislature done? They have done nothing. Nothing,” he said. “The problem keeps getting bigger and bigger. They keep drilling more wells. They keep having more blowouts. They keep contaminating more rivers.”

    Arnowitt and other speakers called for a moratorium on drilling–a politically unlikely action the rally’s crowd clearly endorsed. When Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach voiced support for a severance tax, he was drowned out by calls for a full ban on drilling.

    When the rally ended, many visited lawmakers’ offices to personally lobby for stricter regulations. Fox and several dozen other activists headed to the Capitol’s executive wing.

    “We were stopped at the door. We were told to call. I called several times,” Fox explained. “We had a few entertaining conversations about why they wouldn’t just come to the door and speak to us. I was sent to the scheduling person, who hung up on me. We are demanding that we have an appointment with Gov. Tom Corbett to discuss what’s happening in Pennsylvania as a result of the gas drilling.”

    Video shot by Roxbury News shows Fox and other organizers were less than polite about their request. “Are you telling me…that only certain people have the authority to open doors,” he asked a Corbett staffer on the phone. Fox then pretended to be a member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, as other protesters yelled and waved money in the air.

    Regardless of their tactics, the environmental advocates aren’t alone in the frustration. Two weeks ago, a group of disabled people picketed Corbett’s office, after their attempts to set up a meeting about the budget were been repeatedly ignored.

    Many members of the press have had similar experiences. Corbett’s spokesman, Kevin Harley, ignored repeated requests for comment on this story, and hasn’t returned a call from this reporter since Feb. 22.

    Corbett was in Harrisburg Tuesday. He gave an off-the-record talk to a group organized by Republican strategist Charlie Gerow in the morning, and his black SUV was parked in front of the Capitol for most of the day. Corbett headed to Washington, D.C., Tuesday evening to attend a state dinner at the White House.

    The anti-drilling activists have vowed to return to Harrisburg July 20. They say they’ll spend all day–and all night–at the Capitol, if they don’t get a meeting.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal