In an unprecedented move, House Republicans had a filmmaker arrested yesterday after he showed up to a public congressional hearing. The House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment was meeting to discuss the controversial topic of hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as “fracking.” When Joshua Fox, whose Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland deals with the controversial natural gas extraction process, showed up with a camera wanting to record the hearing, he was arrested and charged with unlawful entry. This happened even though all hearings are supposed to be open for the public to attend, and reporters are rarely turned away.
Here in New York, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is poised to lift a three-year ban on fracking in the coming months, despite a heated comment period and strong resistance from many environmental groups, who say that not enough is known about the long-term effects of the practice. Even the Environmental Protection Agency has weighed in, saying that New York should set limits to the amount of radiation that can be left in fracking wastewater. (Yeah. You read that right. Radiation.)
Fracking opponents say that the practice could cause harmful chemicals to leech into our water system. The hearing which Joshua Fox was booted from was called to discuss the EPA’s findings that hydraulic fracturing fluids had contaminated water supplies in Pavillion, Wyoming. Republicans might not want that information to get out, but having Fox arrested is sure to cause an even bigger stir.
Amidst all this controversy, Fox issued a statement to the press framing the incident as a First Amendment one:
“I was arrested today for exercising my First Amendment rights to freedom of the press on Capitol Hill. I was not expecting to be arrested for practicing journalism … As a filmmaker and journalist I have covered hundreds of public hearings, including Congressional hearings. It is my understanding that public speech is allowed to be filmed. Congress should be no exception.”