Citizen Action Monitor

“The takeaway for climate activists is to not back down” – That’s the lesson from NY fracking ban

Surprise, surprise – Sometimes elected officials do listen (provided they’re not denialist Republicans)

No 1213 Posted by fw, December 20, 2014

“New York’s resolute stance against fracking is particularly momentous because the state sits atop a large portion of the Marcellus Shale, a methane-heavy formation that has been targeted by the energy industry for drilling. Legalizing the practice would have been a financial boon for the state; by prioritizing the environment, Cuomo ‘sets a model for what should happen around the country,’ Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region Director of Food & Water Watch, told Common Dreams.Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams

Okay, two segments in this post. Although the title of the first segment begins with “If you organize, you can win”, in fact, very little of the piece examines the organizing aspects of the stunning NY fracking ban victory. For readers more interested in organizational details, don’t miss the contribution of activist and biologist Sandra Steingraber on Democracy Now, featured in the second segment of this post. Sandra gives a concise overview of her involvement in “constantly bringing data forward to inform the political process.”

First Segment To read the original article, click on the following linked title. Alternatively, read a cross-posting below.


‘If You Organize… You Can Win’: After NY, Hopes Rise For More Fracking Bans by Nadia Prupis, staff writer, Common Dreams, December 19, 2014

‘It’s a game-changing moment,’ said Alex Beauchamp, northeast region director at Food & Water Watch

In the wake of New York’s victory against fracking, many regions in North America faced with growing climate threats seem ready to follow the state’s lead and ban the drilling practice altogether.

Just days after Governor Andrew Cuomo passed a moratorium on fracking following an intensive environmental activism campaign, the Canadian province of New Brunswick introduced its own temporary ban on the controversial method of drilling. New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant, who promised a moratorium on fracking during his campaign, said the halt would be lifted for companies who meet certain conditions, which include a consultation process with First Nations tribes, a plan for waste water disposal, and credible reports on the health and environmental impacts of the practice.

New York’s resolute stance against fracking is particularly momentous because the state sits atop a large portion of the Marcellus Shale, a methane-heavy formation that has been targeted by the energy industry for drilling. Legalizing the practice would have been a financial boon for the state; by prioritizing the environment, Cuomo “sets a model for what should happen around the country,” Alex Beauchamp, Northeast Region Director of Food & Water Watch, told Common Dreams.

“I think you see things happening already,” Beauchamp said. “It’s a game-changing moment.”

Deborah Goldberg, Earthjustice attorney, told Al Jazeera that Cuomo’s move will “give other political leaders courage to step forward and admit what we know about the health effects, what we don’t know about the health effects, and take a more cautious approach.”

And it seems they may.

“We’re seeing advocates in other states latching on to what New York has done in support of their own efforts,” says Kate Sinding, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council told National Geographic.

North Carolina’s Rules Review Commission on Wednesday passed a series of fracking safety standards that could prevent the state legislature from lifting the current fracking moratorium, which it was set to do within months.

In Maryland, another Marcellus-adjacent state where fracking companies have set up shop for years, climate activists have been fighting ferociously—with actions that mirror those taking place in Seneca Lake, New York—to close construction sites and convince their Republican Governor-elect Larry Hogan to halt the practice. Hogan has called fracking an “economic gold mine.”

Democratic governors, such as California’s Jerry Brown, are likely to face the same pressure that Cuomo did, Beauchamp said. “If you’re in power and you’re a Democratic governor, you should really take note,” he added. “[T]he lesson from New York is that if you organize from a grassroots level… you can win.”

Fracking bans exist elsewhere, such as Vermont, but that state’s move against the practice—which came in 2012—while welcome, bears little practical impact, as it has few shale resources to be exploited, unlike New York.

Many opponents of the environmental movement believed that a fracking ban in a state like New York “wasn’t politically possible,” Beauchamp said. “A few days ago… a lot of people would laugh you out of the room” for suggesting that it could happen.

As National Geographic notes, Cuomo’s move could have an impact on neighboring Pennsylvania, another state where fracking has become a flashpoint of the environmental movement.

“I asked myself, ‘Would I let my family live in a community with fracking?’ The answer is no,” said New York Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Wednesday. “I therefore cannot recommend anyone else’s family to live in such a community either.”

Earthworks eastern coordinator Nadia Steinzor told Al Jazeera, “The fact that they took such a clear conclusion on these health risks sends a very strong signal that will reverberate nationwide about the risks to water, land and health.”

There are other indicators that the tide is starting to turn on fracking, Beauchamp said. “[Y]ou see polls increasingly turn against it. You see a clear trend, not only in the U.S. but around the world.

The takeaway for climate activists, Beauchamp said, is to not back down: “You don’t start with what you think is possible. You don’t start with where you think the compromise will be. There’s no one bigger than the fossil fuel industry… and Wednesday we beat them.”


Second Segment – Click on the following linked title to access the full 21:23-minute broadcast, including access to the complete transcript. Alternatively, below is a partial transcript focusing solely on Sandra Steingraber’s initial remarks followed by a transcript of her contribution. The embedded video appears after the transcript. Sandra first appears about 2:37-minutes into the video.

New York Says No to Fracking: State Bans Drilling Following Grassroots Outcry over Public Health by Democracy Now, December 19, 2014.

Sandra Steingraber, activist and biologist. She co-founded both “New Yorkers against Fracking” and “Concerned Health Professionals of New York”. She is the author of Living Downstream and Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. The Tony that Steingraber refers to is her colleague Tony Ingraffea, professor emeritus and Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow at Cornell University.

SANDRA STEINGRABER: Well, that’s a tale that could be told as an opera, I think. So, we had the good fortune to have a moratorium in place by our previous governor, and I’ll let Tony tell some of the details of how that came to be. But because we had pushed the pause button that gave those of us in the scientific community a chance to begin to really look at the data and the research and what it showed.

And we started off with only a handful of studies. There were only six studies on the health effects of fracking and the environmental impacts in 2008, for example, when we had the first moratorium declared. Now there are 414 studies and counting. And so, it was like we had pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and when you only have a couple of pieces and you try to see what the picture is, it’s hard to see. But we saw troubling signs, but it was a little bit like trying to read the tea leaves. And then, as more data came in and more studies were done, and we talked to more scientists and we knew what the data looked like that was in the pipeline that was coming up to be published, we began to put more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. And now we have 414 pieces assembled.

And even though there are still parts of the picture we can’t see very well, what’s obvious to us now is that fracking is not only harmful to our water supply and poisons our air and is beginning to actually show signs of and indicators of making people sick, but also that the problems associated with fracking are inherent to the engineering itself and cannot be mitigated in any regulatory framework. So we couldn’t see any signs that fracking had been done in a certain way, under certain rules that could govern the safety of it such that people wouldn’t be harmed.

And so, we—Tony and I, together—as well as a whole bunch of other scientists, we didn’t just take that information to our regulatory agencies—although we did that, too—because they actually seem sort of deaf to the science. We started early on taking it directly to the citizenry. So, this idea that sort of science and politics exist in two separate boxes, I don’t think so. I mean, objectivity is one thing, and we’re really objective as scientists, but science is not neutral, and it’s not a monk that should be sequestered away in a monastery. Science is like a gladiator that should be in the public arena. And so, we took—we spent, I don’t know, a couple years, every Friday night in a church basement somewhere, in a Rotary Club, in a public library, in a junior high school gymnasium, giving PowerPoint presentations with whatever data we had to groups of citizens in small towns all across the state. And so, that began then citizen organization. Local ban movements sprang up. And then, of course, at some point in 2011, 2012, we had so many different anti-fracking groups, that we united them then under the umbrella, my organization, New Yorkers Against Fracking. And then, Concerned Health Professionals of New York was the sort of science branch of that movement.

And at the same time, Tony’s shop, Physicians, Scientists and Engineers, a completely separate organization, we began to look at the same data sets—PSE from a statistical point of view, we did the qualitative analysis. We not only brought that out to the people in our compendiums and reports, we sent it to our Department of Health commissioners, first Dr. Shah, now Dr. Zucker. We sent it to the DEC. We sent it to the governor. So we were constantly bringing data forward to inform the political process.

And then, of course, musicians and filmmakers all played their own role in captivating the citizenry and uniting us and making us feel like we were on a winning team.

And I really just want to be really clear and thank the governor for listening to the science, because the part of the pressure he was feeling was the pressure of science, because we equipped the citizenry to bring the science, as citizens, to their government. And Governor Cuomo then, in the end, said he would let science make the decision. And he sure did. So, from my perspective as a scientist in the public interest, as somebody who’s spent a lot of years in public health, where I see decision makers and political leaders and elected officials not interested and turning away from the science, here’s a governor who embraced it and said no and stood up to the gas industry. So, all my gratitude to you today, Governor Cuomo.

Here’s the Democracy Now video. Sandra appears about 2:37-minutes in.


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