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Chamber position causing problems

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan
By Jenna Duncan

With a little more than a month left before city residents vote whether to ban hydraulic fracturing in the city, issues have arisen around the Denton Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to the ban.

Since the chamber issued a resolution urging chamber members and their employees to vote against the ban, at least one business has left the organization, and the chamber’s resolution was used in marketing materials without permission, said Chuck Carpenter, president of the Denton chamber.

Denton resident Emily Roden and her husband, Kevin Roden, a City Council member, own Pascal Learning, a company that produces educational materials for school districts.

They have canceled their membership in the Chamber of Commerce because of its board vote against the fracking ban.

Kevin Roden published a blog post last week about leaving the chamber.

The chamber’s stance, which supports “reasonable regulation” of hydraulic fracturing and drilling in the city, goes against the couple’s beliefs and those of other local business owners, he said.

“I feel like they’ve put a lot of businesses in a difficult position, a lot of whom probably want to stay out of it, but now their entire business is seemingly in support of the status-quo drilling in Denton,” Roden said.

“When I came out with that [blog post], a lot of folks said they felt they were put in the position.”

Aside from Roden, there hasn’t been much negative response from chamber members, Carpenter said.

Supporting or denouncing potential rules and regulations is part of the chamber’s job, he said.

The chamber does not want to lose members, he said, but does want to share its stance against the ban with local businesses.

“We don’t just cut ribbons and have parties,” Carpenter said. “Our bylaws want us to advocate positions with government relations. We realize it’s a risk.”

Roden criticized the involvement of national business groups, including oil and gas industry associations, in the campaign against the proposed ban on fracking, which will appear on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

In July, a month before the chamber’s board passed the resolution, three representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s energy, clean air and natural resources committee came to Denton to meet with local chamber representatives, Carpenter said.

While the meeting did not play a role in the board’s opposition to the ban, Carpenter said, the representatives discussed the national concerns of the ban and impact on business in general.

“I think they’re more worried about the national precedent that this could cause, so I think they wanted to get a sense of what the general atmosphere was,” Carpenter said. “This is something that they’re naturally attuned to.”

Having national representatives visit was out of the ordinary, he said. They requested the meeting, Carpenter added.

The committee and national chamber vocally support the oil and gas industry.

All 28 tweets the U.S. Chamber’s account sent in the past year with the keyword “shale” are in support of the industry. Additionally, the chamber’s list of policy priorities for 2014 includes: “Oppose congressional and administrative actions that would undermine or restrict hydraulic fracturing and its ability to develop the enormous shale oil and natural gas reserves across the country.”

The U.S. Chamber, which is based in Washington, D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.

Locally, the Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy has increased its efforts to encourage locals to vote “no” on the proposed ban.

Recently, the group mailed voters a campaign flier that reprinted the Denton chamber’s entire news release about its resolution opposing the ban.

However, the chamber didn’t know it would be used in materials until the mailer was distributed, Carpenter said.

“We didn’t put a penny into that. It was not authorized by us or paid [for] by us, but it implies that it was a chamber initiative,” he said.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.