Gas driller releases emails from former Pennsylvania legislative ally
November 15, 2012 10:00 AM
State Rep. Jesse White
By Laura Olson Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- Was it the smaller-than-expected campaign donation he collected from a Range Resources event and declined request for a ride to the Super Bowl that sparked the conflict between the energy firm and outspoken Democratic Rep. Jesse White?
Or, as he describes, did his shift from someone who described Range in 2009 as a company "committed to doing all the right things" to one who skeptically questions it begin when the firm exerted legal pressure on local municipalities?
Whatever set off the ongoing and increasingly vitriolic dispute between Range and the Washington County legislator, it reached a tipping point with the company releasing a set of unflattering emails from Mr. White.
The half-dozen emails between him and several Range officials are dated from March 2010 to January 2011, with most focused on two fundraisers that Range either hosted for Mr. White, D-Cecil, or had indicated officials would attend.
The messages show the lawmaker raising concerns about who would be coordinating his fundraiser that Range was hosting in March 2010, and later criticizing how much that event raised, saying it fell "considerably short of the intended target."
"I take massive amounts of abuse from my constituents every single day about the Marcellus industry, and I believe I have done an honest and sincere job of supporting your efforts to create jobs and educate people about Marcellus," Mr. White wrote in June 2010.
Another email appears to show Mr. White asking Range to fly him down to the Super Bowl in 2011, which pitted the Steelers against the Green Bay Packers.
In the message from Mr. White's legislative email account to Range vice president Ray Walker, government affairs director Carl Carlson, and spokesman Matt Pitzarella, he asks: "If the Range plane was heading down, any chance we could stowaway in the cargo hold?"
Mr. White says the message was a joke and that he understood there was no corporate jet. He describes the disclosure of the private emails as part of an effort to discredit him because of the pointed questions he began to ask about their practices.
"I'm the guy that can't be bought by Range, so I'm the one they have to go after," Mr. White said. "It's a clear attempt to embarrass me."
Range officials disagree, pointing to the legislator's tone in his Facebook posts and op-ed pieces in which he mentions the company amid a complaint about out-of-state workers hired as drilling crews "who spoke broken English."
In other posts, they say the previously friendly lawmaker also criticizes their advertising spending.
"The part that's been missing here is, what's the motivating factor?" asked Mr. Pitzarella. "This is a rapid reversal of roles."
As Mr. White and Range continue to tussle, local governments within his district -- where Range has been prolific in its drilling activity -- are attempting to maintain their own relationships with the drilling firm.
Range cancelled a recent public forum scheduled to be held in Cecil after Mr. White advertised the event on his Facebook page, arguing that he was attempting to invite an anti-drilling crowd. The lawmaker says he was merely passing information along to his constituents.
Officials there note that they are in "a peculiar position" given their ties to the dueling parties, but say supervisors aren't dissuaded from wanting to work with Range. The cancelled meeting is planned to be rescheduled in the coming weeks.
"They're going to have to find a way to coexist because Rep. White is going to be around for a long time and the oil and gas industry is going to be around for a long time," Cecil manager Don Gennuso said.
As for mending fences, neither Mr. White nor Range are offering any olive branches. Both say they're not being listened to after multiple attempts to work with the other side.
"We have absolutely no issues with the townships," Mr. Pitzarella said. "We have issues with Representative White."
Asked what he can do to resolve the dispute, Mr. White said he'll continue what he has been doing: "not oppose drilling, but demand accountability."
"When Range is doing things that I feel are not above board, I think I have every right in the world to hold them accountable," he said.