Trump’s Pennsylvania Fracking Fantasy: Polls and Recent Elections Prove a Pro-Fracking Message Won’t Win

September 1, 2020
 Climate Democracy

Donald Trump’s re-election hopes rest heavily on winning the state of Pennsylvania, which is why he is spending so much time talking about fracking. His campaign falsely claims Joe Biden supports a ban on drilling, and pro-Trump Super PACs are blanketing the airwaves claiming that a Biden drilling ban would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The political bet that Pennsylvania voters will support a pro-fracking candidate is a staple of election punditry. But there is abundant evidence that this conventional wisdom is totally incorrect.

 

Fracking is not popular with Pennsylvania voters in the first place

An August CBS/YouGov poll found that a slight majority of Pennsylvania voters (52 to 48 percent) oppose fracking. And new polling released by Climate Power 2020 shows that Pennsylvania voters favor bold climate action, have negative views of the fracking industry, and support a range of policies to limit drilling. And a recent Franklin & Marshall poll of registered Pennsylvania voters found 48% actually support a ban on fracking, while 39% opposed it.

 

Victorious anti-fracking candidates show limits of fracking’s appeal 

Anti-fracking Democrats have won in key areas of Pennsylvania, despite a heavy influx of industry campaign contributions dedicated to defeating them.

In 2018, anti-fracking candidates Summer Lee, Sara Innamorato and Elizabeth Fiedler won state legislative races, while the movement fighting the Mariner East pipelines in Chester County flipped a key Republican-held state legislative district by electing Danielle Friel Otten. These anti-fracking candidates all won competitive races, unseating incumbents who did not take on the industry. These trends continued in local races in 2019 in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and in the 2020 primaries the industry spent an astonishing sum in an attempt to unseat Friel Otten, while pro-fracking Democrats heavily backed a challenger to Lee. The strategy was a colossal failure; both candidates cruised to victory.

 

Trump Can’t Save Disappearing Fracking Jobs

While Trump and other pro-fracking politicians claim to be protecting fossil fuel industry workers, the industry has been shedding thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania.

The core of Trump’s fracking blitz is about protecting jobs. One widely aired pro-Trump Super PAC television ad makes the ludicrous claim that a fracking ban would eliminate 600,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. This is wildly inaccurate; before the most recent wave of job cuts, there were about 25,000 fracking jobs in Pennsylvania in total.

Outlandish claims aside, the fracking industry’s financial meltdown has already cost thousands of Pennsylvanians their jobs. Companies laid off hundreds of workers in 2019, and the COVID pandemic has accelerated that trend. One recent study found that almost 9,000 fossil fuel jobs in Pennsylvania were lost between March and July — a 26 percent decline. At this rate, Trump is protecting fracking jobs the same way he ‘saved’ workers in the coal industry.

While overshadowed by Trump’s dishonest rhetoric, the real jobs numbers speak for themselves: A new report shows that clean energy sector jobs grew by almost 9 percent between 2017 and 2019; over the same time period, coal and gas jobs fell by 3.3 and 7.4 percent, respectively.

 

Fracking has taken a terrible toll on public health in Pennsylvania, and the evidence is clear that the hype about gas being a climate-friendly ‘bridge fuel’ was fossil fuel industry spin. Instead of repeating and reinforcing tropes about fracking’s supposed appeal to swing state voters, there should be more attention devoted to the real story:  Anti-fracking politicians are winning their races, drilling is not popular with voters, and Donald Trump is claiming to save workers whose jobs are already being eliminated in an industry that is in the process of collapsing.

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

August 10, 2020
 Climate Democracy
Iowa needs factory farm fighters to protect the people. Here are our picks.

Here’s Iowa factory farm problem by the numbers: 

  • 760 impaired waterways — a number that grows every year. 
  • Over 10,000 polluting factory farms. 
  • And four State House seats that we need to flip in order to pass a moratorium on factory farms. 

To solve our first two problems, we have to start by addressing the third. Flipping the Iowa House is the first step in addressing Iowa’s factory farm crisis. Our climate, our communities, and our quality of life cannot wait another election cycle for solutions.

Our Eight Endorsements Can Help Us Win Against Factory Farm Pollution

Food & Water Action has endorsed eight candidates for the Iowa Legislature. All are ready to fight for the people of Iowa and our right to clean water, healthy food, and a liveable climate. Most of our endorsed candidates represent swaths of rural Iowa — the areas hardest hit by the explosion of the factory farm industry and the consolidation of the agricultural sector. Farm Bureau and other giant agribusinesses are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into these districts, and they’ve successfully managed to brand their vision of a “farmer’s” politician over past decades. They want to create an Iowa where politicians answer to billionaires instead of Iowans, where our natural resources are mined and destroyed, and where family farmers are left struggling while industry fat cats profit from their labor. But that’s not the kind of life Iowans want. It’s time we stop allowing Big Ag to tell us how to vote. 

It will be a challenge taking on an entrenched multi-billion dollar industry. But rural Iowa, independent family farmers, and the future of this state are all worth fighting for. These eight candidates for State Legislature are here to join us in the fight.

Christina Blackcloud, Iowa House District 72

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

Christina is positioned to be the first Native American to ever serve in the Iowa General Assembly. She understands the threat corporate consolidation has on our food and agriculture system and will be ready on day one to push for the transformation of the industry so that it works for all of us, not just multi-billion dollar companies.

Sharon Steckman, Iowa House District 53

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

Rep. Steckman has faithfully served the people of Mason City for 12 years and is a fierce advocate for our environment. Since 2018, she has been the lead sponsor in the House on legislation calling for a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms. Sharon has also sponsored numerous bills to strengthen protections from the factory farm industry.

Dennis Evans, Iowa House District 50

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

Dennis has taken on one of the most challenging House races in Iowa, running against House Majority Leader Pat Grassley. Dennis provides the courageous and necessary representation Iowans need in order to protect our water, air, and soil from the harms of corporate agriculture.

Selden Spencer, Iowa House District 49

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

Selden has been a longtime supporter of climate and environmental justice. As a neurologist, Selden has improved the lives of his patients. Now, as a House candidate, he’s ready to enact policies to improve the lives of all Iowans.

Jack Friend, Iowa House District 48

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

Jack has bold and action-oriented plans to protect both our environment and independent family farmers. Jack is an advocate for a food and farm system that is sustainable, humane, and safe. With his vision, Iowa can turn the right corner.

Sam Muhr, Iowa House District 12

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

Sam has the leadership and listening skills that Iowans deserve. Living in Exira, she has witnessed the decline of rural Iowa firsthand due to the consolidation of our agricultural sector. Sam is prepared to make transformative changes to protect and restore our rural communities, environment, and farm system.

Pam Jochum, Iowa Senate District 50

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

Sen. Jochum has served the people of Dubuque since 1992. Her experience is a valuable asset to the General Assembly. Pam’s record packs a punch — she’s a true representative of the people. She answers to her constituents, not Big Ag. Pam is an environmental advocate and has supported a moratorium on factory farms for several years. We need her voice in the Senate to push a moratorium forward.

Cindy Paschen, Iowa Senate District 24

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

Cindy has always been a strong voice for what is right. As a rural property owner observing the expansion of industrial agriculture all across Iowa, she stands against the corporate-owned factory farm industry. Cindy will be a fierce defender for sustainable agricultural practices, the livelihoods of family farmers, and Iowa’s water.

Our Local Endorsements To Fight Factory Farms In Greene County

Since change comes from the bottom up, Food & Water Action has also endorsed on the local level in the Greene County Board of Supervisors race. Chris Henning and Ginny Showman are fighting for their community — ensuring all residents have a say in what happens in Greene County. They’ll defend independent family farmers and our right to clean water. 

Iowa Needs Factory Farm Fighters. Here Are Our Top Picks In 2020.

With these environmental champions, we’ll return power to the people and take Iowa back from the Farm Bureau. This is a critical moment. It’s time to elect representatives who will be responsive to their constituents, not giant agribusiness corporations. We are going to elect candidates who are ready to fight for everyday Iowans, thriving rural communities and independent farms, clean water, and a healthy future. Now’s our chance.

Will you volunteer from the safety of your home to contact friends and turn out new voters?

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Sky White And Pat Kemp Are The Climate Champions For The Hillsborough County Commission

August 10, 2020
 Climate Democracy
Food & Water Action stands behind these candidates for Hillsborough County Commission who will fight for a 100% renewable energy future.

The climate crisis feels like a ticking time bomb, already beginning to burst and unleashing a never-ending series of blows in the form of dangerously high temperatures, rising sea levels that wreak havoc on our water infrastructure, and more disastrous hurricanes. The future that climate scientists are predicting is scary. But there is good news — our elected leaders have the power to change our path and avert the worst impacts of climate change. Scientists have shown that a rapid and large-scale transition to 100% renewable energy is possible. That’s why we need climate champions in the Hillsborough County Commission, to fight for a renewable energy future and change the course we’re on.

Trump And DeSantis Have Failed Florida On Climate Action

The Trump Administration and Florida Governor DeSantis have refused to take action to avert climate disaster. Not only has Governor DeSantis refused to take action on climate, last summer he further buried Florida into a fossil fuel hole by approving the conversion of the Big Bend coal-fired power plant in Hillsborough County to run off of dirty fracked gas. This plant could be in operation in Hillsborough County — spewing air pollutants and climate changing-emissions into the atmosphere — for decades to come. 

We’re running out of time waiting for our state and federal leaders to take urgent climate action — so we’re turning to our local elected leaders.

In the absence of action at the state and federal levels, we have turned our attention to our Tampa Bay city and county leaders for climate action at the local level. The Tampa Bay region stands to have major impacts from climate change including over 3 feet of sea level rise by 2060 and life-threateningly high temperatures. That’s why we’re working to get the City of Tampa to adopt a renewable energy plan to convert the city to 100% renewable energy by 2030. After we win at the city level, we will go next to demand the Hillsborough County Commissioners ratify a plan to get the rest of the county to 100% renewable energy by 2030. We know that by working at the local level and shoring up climate champions at home, we can build power to further push our Tampa Bay area state legislators and Congressional leaders to take progressive climate action. 

Electing Climate Champions To Hillsborough County Commission

We need strong leaders that will fight for 100% by 2030. We are proud to endorse two candidates for the Hillsborough County Commission! Get out to vote in the primary elections by August 18th and in the general elections by November 3rd!

Sky White – District 3

 Sky White And Pat Kemp Are The Climate Champions For The Hillsborough County Commission
Sky has a bold vision for District 3 and the entire county. As a nurse and longtime community organizer, Sky understands how dirty fossil fuel infrastructure and the climate crisis impacts our health, and especially how those impacts burden Black and Brown communities the most. Sky will fight for a countywide transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030 because she understands that Hillsborough County doesn’t have time to waste — climate change is impacting us now and we need urgent action. She’ll also work to ensure the county’s renewable energy policies expand access to affordable mass transit and resources for low-income families to make their homes more energy efficient to reduce emissions and lower energy bills. Sky is the fierce leader that Hillsborough County needs and we’re excited to back her campaign!

Pat Kemp – District 6 (Countywide)

 Sky White And Pat Kemp Are The Climate Champions For The Hillsborough County Commission
Commissioner Pat Kemp has been the key leader fighting for environmental progress for the last 4 years on the Hillsborough County Commission. Commissioner Kemp opposed the plans to convert Hillsborough County’s coal plant to run off dirty fracked gas, calling for investments in solar energy instead. She has successfully fought to bring energy efficiency measures and solar energy to county operations. Commissioner Kemp has also been a tireless advocate for expanding access to mass transit. Kemp is an experienced leader who knows how to move bold policies forward!  

Sign up to volunteer from home to help get Sky White elected and Commissioner Pat Kemp reelected to the Hillsborough County Commission! 

We recognize that traditional campaign tactics like canvassing aren’t safe for everyone in the COVID-19 pandemic. So we’re building a team of Hillsborough County residents that can volunteer from home by asking their friends to vote for climate champions in this election. Conversations with people you know are proven to have a big impact on inspiring new voters. 

We have a goal of turning out 1,000 new Hillsborough County voters this election. Help us reach that goal by signing up to talk to your friends about getting out to vote for climate champions!

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Climate Enemies Take A Hit As Our Champions Win Big In Pennsylvania

June 12, 2020
 Climate Democracy

Not even fossil fuel money and ads could stop these anti-fracking powerhouses from winning their races. That is a great sign for Pennsylvania’s future.

Climate Enemies Take A Hit As Our Champions Win Big In Pennsylvania

Progressive champions Summer Lee and Danielle Friel Otten were part of a wave that shocked the Pennsylvania political establishment in 2018. So it was no surprise that those same establishment forces in their own party would team up with fossil fuel interests and fracking industry to try to unseat them this year. 

The plan failed. 

The fossil fuel industry hates when community leaders stand up to fight for their families. They know that when candidates run for office on positions that speak earnestly to the health and safety concerns of voters in their communities, those candidates win. Food & Water Action is very good at finding those candidates, training them how to run for office, and playing a key role in getting them to victory.

Lee and Friel Otten won overwhelming victories in the June primary, with another impressive surge by progressive candidates who will basically double the ranks of an emerging progressive wing in Harrisburg.

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Summer Lee Proves Pundits Wrong: Fracking Opponents Win Elections 

Summer Lee has been a leader in her Braddock community in the fight against a new fracking well. Food & Water Action helped Summer Lee win her first election in 2018, when she became the first black woman from Allegheny County elected to the House. We knocked on thousands of doors and put out thousands of mailers educating voters about her as a first-time candidate.

During her 2018 campaign, and then afterwards, Summer was outspoken in opposing a fracking well proposed in the middle of her Mon Valley community. If allowed, this would make Summer’s neighborhood the most densely-populated community to be fracked in all of Pennsylvania– and the community already faces a legacy of environmental injustice. Lee’s bold advocacy ruffled feathers in the Democratic party establishment, which has been largely supportive of the drilling industry. The Allegheny County executive, an industry shill, backed her challenger, Chris Roland, who supports continued fracking activity in the area.

Defending Summer was a big priority for Food & Water Action. Our organizers on the ground worked directly with her campaign, through Food & Water Action PAC, to generate thousands of calls, texts, and other outreach to voters in her district. Meanwhile, a separate team worked to generate 2,500 handwritten letters to voters in Summer’s district, reminding them to cast their ballot for Summer. We also ran digital ads to get voters to apply to vote by mail, then sent a mailer to voters in the district explaining to them which polling places were open on election day (many were closed).  The voters proved the pro-fossil fuel pundits wrong — the will to ban fracking is strong.

Dark Money Can’t Unseat Fierce Pipeline Fighter, Danielle Friel Otten

Danielle Friel Otten helped lead the movement in Chester County to oppose the dangerous Mariner East 2 pipeline, which was being built just 40 feet from her yard. When she saw that local political leaders were not standing up to the fossil fuel industry, she decided to challenge them directly. She unseated the Democratic incumbent and now represents State House District 155 in Harrisburg.

Friel Otten has been a thorn in the side of the fracking industry, so it was no surprise that the industry would try to unseat her. As the election approached, a SuperPAC spent over $130,000 to attack her. Building for America’s Future was running TV ads, expensive mailers, and even a mobile billboard. The industry also spent $168,000 in just three days before the election to oppose our ally Ginny Kerslake. Food & Water Action PAC helped expose this dark money assault, getting a front-page article published in the local newspaper.

We understood that even with ads up on cable news bashing Friel Otten, she was broadly popular, so we focused our efforts on getting Ginny Kerslake to victory. Working directly with the campaign through Food & Water Action PAC, we helped generate thousands of calls and text messages to voters on behalf of Ginny’s campaign. Ginny is a skilled seamstress, and had been making face masks for those who needed them during the height of the COVID pandemic. We first reached out to voters asking how they were doing, and if they needed Ginny to hand-sew them a mask. We were able to engage hundreds of voters in deep conversations about COVID and their community, many of which ended with a commitment to vote for Ginny.

The big money only got the fracking industry so far; Friel Otten cruised to victory, while Kerslake’s industry-backed opponent won that race. We believe she would have won had the industry not stepped in with their lies. The lesson is that the movement against the pipeline is so strong that the fossil fuel status quo is no longer acceptable. It’s more clear than ever that pro-pipeline Democrats have no place representing Pennsylvania communities.

Big Picture: Progressives Are Heading To Harrisburg 

These are huge wins, but there’s a bigger electoral story in Pennsylvania: The progressive wing of the legislature in Harrisburg is growing. 

Food & Water Action recognized in 2017 that we did not have the power needed to stop the fracking industry’s lobbyists in Harrisburg. That’s why we got involved in elections, notably starting Food & Water Action PAC with Pennsylvania sustainability pioneer Judy Wicks. Our victories in 2018 created a true progressive flank in the state legislature. 

Those lawmakers were key to stopping Governor Wolf’s marquee infrastructure proposal, Restore PA, which seeks to invest billions of dollars in much-needed projects by selling bonds that would be backed by a new fracking tax. This would essentially guarantee decades of more drilling, not to mention the substantial financial risks associated with betting the state’s finances on the future of a failing industry. These leaders also stood firm against HB 1100, a bill that sought to give massive subsidies and tax breaks to the petrochemical and fracking industries. 

The power of this progressive flank is growing. In addition to Lee and Friel Otten’s big wins, there were other important Democratic victories this year: Food & Water Action endorsed Nikil Saval (candidate for SD1), Jessica Benham (candidate for HD40) Emily Kinkead (candidate for HD20), and Rick Krajewski (candidate for HD188) because they each want to see Pennsylvania shift away from fossil fuels and stop the fracking industry from polluting our air, water and climate. Food & Water Action helped each of these candidates in different ways. Some were given money directly by Food & Water Action PAC; for others, we raised their profile by running digital ads; for all we made sure our members were on our side with texts and calls.

Our goal for 2020 was to double the side of this progressive caucus. After these amazing primary victories, we are well on our way to doing that. We look forward to using the general election to build out a network of voters ready to vote on climate as their number one issue to elect anti-fracking champions like former Food & Water Watch local leader Tara Zrinski, who is running for State House District 138. Success will mean a new Democratic majority in the state house, a stronger progressive flank ready to check Governor Wolf’s pro-fracking policies, and building long term grassroots power for our movement.

The fossil fuel industry wields enormous power in Harrisburg. But by working to elect leaders who will stand up to them, the tide is turning and we’re more hopeful than ever that we can create a safe, livable future for Pennsylvanians. 

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Newsom Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Culver City And Cat Canyon’s Fossil Fuel Fights

June 11, 2020
 Climate

In the absence of true leadership from above, these municipalities are making moves to protect residents from dangerous fossil fuels.

Newsom Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Culver City And Cat Canyon’s Fossil Fuel Fights

Nearly 18 months after taking office with a pledge to ban fracking, close the disastrous Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, and generally clamp down on the fossil fuel industry in California, Governor Gavin Newsom has done exactly none of these things. In fact, like his predecessor Jerry Brown, Newsom is proving to be a firm friend of Big Oil and Gas throughout the state. Case in point: Recently — and in the midst of a global health emergency, no less — he has been quietly approving new fracking permits

It’s become quite clear that Gavin Newsom will not be an environmental leader for California (much less the country). The change we need will have to come from the people. And communities across the state are stepping up to the challenge. Two recent local victories against new oil development in California prove that progress towards a clean energy future can be made, with or without Newsom.

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Culver City Steps Up Against Big Oil

After eight long years of pressure by community organizations and Food & Water Action, a big victory was achieved in Culver City — site of the largest urban oil field in the country. The city council, responding to community demands, pursued and received a legal finding confirming the city has the authority to phase out oil drilling in its portion of the Inglewood Oil Field (more than 10 percent of the entire field). We understand that the Culver City City Council intends to pass an ordinance soon to do just that.

The history of our fight in Culver City:

  • 2012: The fight begins when thousands of concerned residents called on the city council to support a ban on fracking. Shortly thereafter, Culver City became the first city in California to call on the state to ban fracking.
  • After this initial victory, the fight expanded to end all oil drilling in Culver City, as the community fought back against proposals to increase drilling by 30-60 wells within city limits. The community puts forward city council candidates to stand up to this proposed expansion.
  • Food & Water Action jumped in to support this shift in the Culver City Council and endorsed candidates, most notably Daniel Lee, who would fight fossil fuel development in the city.
  • 2018: With a new, progressive, anti-oil council in power,  the city quickly moved to study the legality of phasing out oil drilling in its limits.
  • 2020: The results of the study are back and it’s a greenlight to phase out the oil-drilling within Culver City’s jurisdiction.

The next steps are clear: Culver City Council must continue on this path and ultimately phase out all oil and gas drilling in the city. We will continue to fight alongside our allies to ensure this complete victory. 

Environmental Justice for Cat Canyon, Defeating Shell and Exxon

After a three year fight against local community organizations, Aera Energy, co-owned by Shell and Exxon, recently withdrew its application to drill more than 200 new oil wells in Cat Canyon, Santa Barbara County. Aera is now the second of three companies to withdraw drilling applications for the canyon in the past two months.

In 2017, Food & Water Action and community partners began organizing to protect Cat Canyon from 750 proposed oil wells, which were targeting some of the dirtiest oil on Earth. We organized in Santa Maria, Orcutt, Guadalupe and Sisquoc — the communities that would be most directly affected by the new drilling. This included tabling at community events, hosting house parties, conducting tours of the area, and importantly, translating lots of information to Spanish and Mixteco. The communities affected most by the current and proposed drilling are majority Latinx, and many are from Indigenous communities that don’t speak Spanish or English.

Local Environmental Orgs Still Have A Steep Climb In Cat Canyon

Despite Aera’s withdrawal, community-led efforts to stop fossil fuel development in Santa Barbara county are far from over. In September, the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission will vote on ExxonMobil’s application to restart three nearby offshore wells, which would involve dozens more dangerous, polluting work trucks and oil tankers on local roads each day. Meanwhile, TerraCore’s application to drill in Cat Canyon is still pending. However, Food & Water Action and local advocates that fought Aera’s application — including 350 Santa Barbara Safe Energy Now, Santa Barbara Community Action Network, CLUE, World Business Academy, Lideres Campesinas, CAUSE, MICOP, NAACP, Sierra Club Los Padres Chapter, Environmental Defense Center, Sunrise Santa Barbara and many others — vow to continue fighting the oil industry while advancing a just transition away from dirty energy.

We know that fossil fuel extraction disproportionately impacts low-income communities and people of color. We know that we cannot fight for climate justice without also fighting for racial justice in all forms. We’ll keep tirelessly fighting for justice in Cat Canyon with supporters like you by our side.

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Who Beat A Billion Dollar Fracking Pipeline? We Did.

May 21, 2020
 Climate
A fossil fuel giant sought to build a massive gas pipeline across New Jersey and New York, which would have harmed fragile marine environments in the water between the states. A strong people-powered movement stood in their way — and won the battle. 

In 2016, the Oklahoma-based fossil fuel company Williams/Transco announced a plan to build a pipeline to carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania across central New Jersey, and then underneath the Raritan Bay and the New York harbor.

Williams Pipeline Would Have Been A Bad Deal For Consumers And Wildlife

This $1 billion dirty energy project, known as the Northeast Supply Enhancement, or NESE, would have threatened sensitive marine habitats, driven up air pollution in the New Jersey neighborhoods near the compressor station required for the pipeline, and deepened our use of dirty fossil fuels at a time when both states were mapping out clean energy goals. 

Worst of all, the cost of building the pipeline would have been passed down to ratepayers, who would have had to bear the cost of a pipeline they vehemently opposed. 

Williams and other fossil fuel giants are used to getting easy approval for projects like this. 

They expected to win. They didn’t. 

The Pipeline Was Rejected For What Might Be The Final Time

On May 15, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued its third rejection of the project, ruling that “New York is not prepared to sacrifice the State’s water quality for a project that is not only environmentally harmful but also unnecessary to meet New York’s energy needs.”

Perhaps most importantly, the state also determined that its new climate law represents an additional hurdle: New York’s plan to drastically curtail fossil fuels cannot be accomplished by approving new fossil fuel projects.

Shortly after that news arrived, we heard from New Jersey, where Governor Phil Murphy’s administration had reached the same conclusion. If New York determined that there was no need to build a new pipeline to deliver more gas, then it made no sense to put New Jersey’s air and water at risk. 

Fighting This Pipeline From The Very Start

Food & Water Action was battling this project from the very start, helping to build a movement across two states that brought tens of thousands of people together to stop the Williams Company. Much of that work was done through the Stop the Williams Pipeline Coalition, a mighty collection of dozens of groups led by Food & Water Action, Sane Energy Project, New York Communities for Change, 350Brooklyn, 350.org, Surfrider Foundation, and Rockaway Civic Association.

It started in New Jersey, where we worked with local residents to organize our opposition at the first round of federal hearings in September 2016. We helped organize over a dozen town hall meetings to organize communities that would have been directly impacted by pollution from this project, and pressed local political leaders to pass municipal resolutions in many towns. When Williams held their own PR ‘town hall’ events, we showed our opposition with boisterous rallies outside.

We were determined to let governors in both states know that their very own climate and clean energy goals required them to stop the Williams NESE pipeline. 

The company’s applications were stopped in both states in 2018 and 2019, but Williams was granted the chance to re-apply. 

Our movement grew, and so did the political costs of staying on the sidelines. In April of 2019, the array of grassroots groups working together to stop the pipeline converged in New York City, where over 1,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in a remarkable display of strength. The New York City Council passed a resolution against the project the very same day. 

National Grid Plays Hardball — And Loses 

The corporate utility that was scheduled to buy the gas delivered by the Williams pipeline was National Grid, which serves homes and businesses across New York City. As our movement kept the Williams project at bay, National Grid decided to fight back and escalate pressure on New York regulators. 

After the pipeline was rejected temporarily by New York in May of 2019, National Grid started holding their own rate-payers hostage by denying service to customers who had signed up to receive gas. In an effort to convince the public and the state of the necessity of the pipeline, they claimed they did not have enough gas to service new customers without the approval of the pipeline. National Grid even emailed tens of thousands of customers, encouraging them to contact state regulators to advocate for construction of the pipeline. 

This ploy backfired spectacularly. A series of local news stories started running, documenting how homeowners and small businesses were being left in the lurch. And the company’s argument made no sense; how could a pipeline that wasn’t going to be in service for years into the future prevent customers’ ability to get gas service right now?

National Grid’s Dishonesty Led To Cuomo Taking Action 

The Cuomo administration appeared to have reached its breaking point, with the governor denouncing the company’s bullying and even raising the possibility of revoking National Grid’s license to operate in New York altogether. 

By fall of 2019, his administration launched two deeper investigations of the company’s behavior, and ultimately ended up fining them $36 million for their manipulative scheme. The company was also required to submit new reports showing how they would meet customers’ energy needs in the future. It was clear that National Grid had lied, abused their power, and attempted to use ratepayers as pawns in a political ploy for their own corporate gain. 

Appearing on a WNYC radio show on September 24, Governor Cuomo was blunt about National Grid’s behavior: “If they’re extorting people, and wrongfully turning off gas service to homes to create political pressure, I’m not negotiating over that. That’s extortion. That’s a crime.”  His assessment of the pipeline was similar: “We have taken a position: We’re against the pipeline. That’s our position.” 

For now, Williams does not appear likely to pursue legal action to win approval for NESE. And by winning a nearly four year battle, It has become clear that a people-powered movement can build the political will to stop fossil fuel projects like this. 

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