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Williams in bed with fracking lobby

State Sen. Anthony Williams’ wife landed a six-figure job with the fracking industry six months after her husband voted for an industry-friendly bill.

STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Shari Williams , an executive with the gas-drilling lobby, speaks at an event for her husband, mayoral candidate/state Sen. Anthony Williams.
STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Shari Williams , an executive with the gas-drilling lobby, speaks at an event for her husband, mayoral candidate/state Sen. Anthony Williams.Read more

MAYORAL candidate and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams' campaign website contains a fairly detailed "Issues" section, with one exception - it lacks a stance on environmental issues.

His wife, Shari Williams, however, has quite a robust outlook, but one that isn't likely to please environmentalists.

As a highly paid executive with a pre-eminent gas-drilling lobby, she writes essays for an industry magazine extolling the virtues of what is commonly referred to as "fracking" and advocates a vision of Philadelphia as a major oil and gas processing hub.

Shari Williams, a former communications specialist for the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission, which oversees aspects of the state gas industry, now makes $112,000 a year as a community outreach manager for a prominent fracking industry organization, called the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

It is a job she landed in 2012, six months after her husband was one of just four Senate Democrats to vote for a Republican-pushed fracking bill that drew wide criticism from environmentalists for its paltry industry fee structure and threadbare environmental protections.

MSC exists as an "astroturf" group, built to rebut environmental criticisms of fracking and push positive stories about the gas industries' economic successes, while employing a pile of industry money to organize "grassroots" support for fracking.

The oil and gas industry has spent about $41 million lobbying state officials since 2007, according to a 2014 report by the Marcellus Money Project. With a whopping $11.3 million in lobbying expenses, more of that money came from MSC than any other single industry group.

Her lucrative position at MSC has led Shari Williams to take some other positions on gas extraction in Pennsylvania potentially uncomfortable to her husband. She's criticized a popular plan to impose an excise tax on fracking companies, which has become a cornerstone of Gov. Wolf's education-funding strategy.

Pennsylvania is one of the only states without such a levy, and various plans for an excise tax have received bipartisan support in Harrisburg. But in November, Williams tweeted, "Additional energy taxes would stifle production and kill good-paying, long-term jobs," followed by the hashtag #JobsNotTaxes.

In another tweet, she wrote, "Get the facts, taxes are paid, don't let them fool you," linking to an MSC infographic outlining, among other things, the environmental impact fees that are already paid by fracking companies.

These fees were imposed by Act 13 in 2012, the controversial bill supported by her husband and passed in response to increased environmental concerns about the fracking boom.

But do Shari Williams' views and occupation influence her husband? Sen. Williams said through a spokesman yesterday that he was committed to advancing the same vision of Philadelphia as an energy hub mentioned in his wife's writing, although he did not refer specifically to Marcellus Shale drilling.

Shari Williams said yesterday that she and her husband do not talk drilling or tax policy related to Pennsylvania's fracking industry.

"I have not spoken to him about adding a severance tax to an already taxed industry," she said. "I'm just a wife and my husband is running for another office. I'm supporting him."

She added that she didn't even know that he voted for Act 13 three years ago.

"He doesn't come home and say, 'I voted for this today,' " she said.

Williams campaign spokesman Al Butler wrote in an email: "Sen. Williams strongly supports the development of Philadelphia as an energy hub, as the best way to transform the city's economy and add thousands of family-sustaining jobs for Philadelphians from all walks of life."

Butler skirted questions about Shari Williams' influence.

"Do he and his wife discuss the issue? Of course, but his support for the hub is entirely his own, largely because of estimates that suggest that 63 percent of all jobs created in the energy space will be blue-collar, requiring a high school diploma and some training," he said.

Steve Hvozdovich, Pennsylvania campaign coordinator for the environmental group Clean Water Action, said that the next mayor of Philadelphia will have to deal with the fact that thousands of tanker trains, filled with oil from fracking in North Dakota, pass through Philadelphia, bringing fracking's environmental consequences closer to home.

Williams, Hvozdovich said, "has shown himself to be someone who can be supportive of the environment, but there's reason to wonder going forward if his wife could have an influence on some of his positions as they relate to energy production. He should start talking about these issues publicly."

A good start, Hvozdovich said, would be adding the environment to his campaign "Issues" page.

Phone: 610-730-4333

On Twitter: @rw_briggs