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‘Empty chair says a lot’ at Warsaw panel meeting

The empty chair was obvious at yesterday's panel discussion in Warsaw.

The empty chair was obvious at yesterday’s panel discussion in Warsaw.

There was an empty chair at the table yesterday, at a panel discussion in Warsaw hosted by the Northern Neck–Chesapeake Bay Region Partnership.

Jerry Davis, director of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission, said he wanted to borrow a line from Clint Eastwood and speak to the vacant seat—or at least the reason it wasn’t occupied.

A representative from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was supposed to join the panel, assembled to discuss the benefits and impacts of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Other panelists included the president of the Virginia Oil and Gas Association, two secretaries from the governor’s cabinet and a lawyer with an environmental law firm.

Davis said there were various conversations with the federal agency about who would be the best person to attend. The talks eventually led to the chief of staff at the Philadelphia office deciding that no one would attend the Warsaw session, Davis said.

He added that he believes it’s because the EPA considers fracking regulations “a state and local matter. I think the empty chair says a lot.”

Davis said, in introductory remarks, that there’s the perception that the oil and gas industry goes without federal regulation and accountability, and “we wanted to clear that up, we wanted to understand exactly what the federal role is in all of this.”

Rick Parrish, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he believes EPA’s absence was “more politics than law.”

The agency has been working for about three years on a study of the impact of fracking on water supplies and probably didn’t “want to give anything away prematurely” before the report is finished, Parrish said.

Here’s a story in today’s Free Lance–Star about the panel discussion, which attracted more than 100 people, including elected officials, staff and residents from at least six counties in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.