Where Does Joe Biden Stand On Banning Fracking?

March 16, 2020
 Climate Democracy
Joe Biden surprised everyone by implying he supports a ban on fracking. While his campaign quickly walked it back, a ban is a necessary step in the fight to stop climate chaos.

Where does Joe Biden stand on banning fracking?

At the March 15 presidential debate, former vice president Joe Biden appeared to endorse a ban on fracking, which would have marked a dramatic shift in his policy and away from his record on the subject. 

The shift was short-lived. Just minutes after the conclusion of the debate, the campaign was telling reporters that he did not mean what he said.

Confusing? Here’s how it went down: During the one-on-one debate, Bernie Sanders said. “I’m talking about stopping fracking as soon as we possibly can.” Biden responded by saying, “So am I.” This appeared to surprise Sanders, who followed up by saying, “I’m not sure your proposal does that.” But Biden appeared to double down, declaring: “No more… no new fracking.”

After the debate, reporters were told by the campaign that Biden meant to refer only to drilling on public lands. 

From the very beginning of his campaign, Biden has faced tough criticism of his climate policies. to which he has often responded by saying that his record speaks for itself. What that record says, especially when it comes to fracking, is shocking. 

Joe Biden Was Selling Fracking as Vice President

The Obama administration was keen on ramping up fossil fuel production. One way it sought to do that was by wholeheartedly embracing fracking, touting gas drilling as a bridge to clean energy. This disastrous move delayed the shift to clean energy, setting back efforts to combat the climate crisis. But the administration was not just supporting new drilling at home; they also pushed other countries to embrace fracking, in part to undercut Russian gas exports. 

Vice President Biden was one of the most prominent public faces associated with that drive; in one high profile case, he went to Ukraine to underscore the need for the country to expand its shale drilling operations.

Biden’s Campaign: Personnel and Policy Linked To Fossil Fuels

One doesn’t need to rely on the Obama administration’s record to evaluate Biden’s climate platform. His campaign’s plan features weak timelines on renewable energy, vague pollution pricing schemes, and relies on non-existent technologies like carbon capture and new nuclear plants to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions. His overall vision has been scored by a variety of advocacy groups, and the results are clear (Sunrise Movement: 75 out of 200; Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund: C+). 

Campaigns aren’t just about voter interactions or policy proposals, though; a lot can be learned by the company a candidate keeps. One of the first major scandals to hit the Biden campaign came last September, when the former vice president attended a fundraiser co-hosted by Andrew Goldman, a co-founder of the fossil fuel company Western LNG. When pressed on how to reconcile this with the campaign’s decision to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, Biden downplayed Goldman’s role at the company, claiming he was not technically an ‘executive.’

Biden’s industry connections run deep. His campaign’s climate policy advisor is Heather Zichal, who was recently on the board of the natural gas company Cheniere Energy, while the campaign’s co-chair is Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, one of the fossil fuel industry’s most loyal Democrats in Congress. And prominent pro-Biden super PAC “Unite the Country” boasts several officials with ties to corporate interests and fossil fuel companies.

Biden Has Consistently Rejected Calls to Ban Fracking

The March 15 debate was not the first time that Biden has faced questions about a fracking ban. On several occasions on the campaign trail, he has told activists that he does not support banning fracking, or that it simply “cannot be done.” Disingenuous attempts to make it seem like Biden supports a ban led one of his supporters to pen a letter to the Wall Street Journal headlined, “Joe Biden Does Not Support a Fracking Ban.”

Many of us were surprised to hear Biden say he wanted to ban fracking. 

It was not surprising to hear his campaign explain that he didn’t actually mean it. 

If Joe Biden really does want to champion serious climate action, there are some things he should do: He could start by really supporting a ban on fracking, as well as fossil fuel exports, and new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. He should reject advisors and financial supporters who are aligned with the fossil fuel industry. And to underscore his commitment, he could join Bernie Sanders in signing our #UnfrackTheCabinet pledge, which would show that he considers climate action a serious priority.

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These Are California’s Best Climate Candidates For 2020

February 28, 2020
 Climate Democracy
As climate change becomes a top electoral issue, Food & Water Action reveals its top candidate choices to win in California.

As California prepares to vote by March 3rd, Food & Water Action is proud to endorse and support worthy candidates. These candidates share our vision for a clean energy future, and will represent the values of people impacted by dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure from L.A. City Hall to the halls of Congress. 

Positions On Oil & Fracking Heavily Influenced Our Decisions

When weighing candidates in these races, we looked at their positions, their records and their ability to organize communities and coalitions to win. Like all our work, our fights are rooted in local communities. We believe winning local electoral races will lead to political power we can leverage to stop oil drilling in California and ban fracking nationally. 

We are proud to present our endorsements for the races where we organize and live. Get out and vote by March 3rd in California!

L.A City Council

Nithya Raman – District 4 

Nithya Raman has emerged as a bold community leader with a clear vision for guiding L.A. forward on its toughest issues: homelessness, housing affordability and climate action. Nithya will undoubtedly stand up to fossil fuel interests and support a 2500-ft. health and safety buffer zone between oil drilling and homes, and will stand behind a transition to 100% clean energy by 2030. Nithya is the best person to lead the district forward on these challenges.

Nithya’s campaign began knocking on doors in October, prioritizing relationship building with voters on the biggest issues in the district. No other campaign has acted with this much focus on rebuilding trust and connection with voters. 

Aura Vasquez – District 10

Aura Vasquez has been a part of environmental action since the early days of mass climate action in L.A. In 2019, as a member of the five-member Board of Commissioners at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Aura stuck her neck out to oppose building three gas-burning power plants in vulnerable communities. This move aided existing organizing efforts to block the plants, and potentially saved ratepayers billions of dollars.

Aura’s opponents don’t share her vision for a sustainable Los Angeles, and most of L.A.’s political establishment has lined up behind them. But she remains the strongest candidate in the race poised to lob a wrench into the status quo, and push City Hall further on its climate commitments.

Loraine Lundquist – District 12 

Loraine Lundquist has defied all convention in her meteoric rise from a San Fernando Valley community organizer to viable frontrunner for the last conservative-held seat on L.A. City Council. The reason is pretty clear — long-term grassroots organizing builds strong roots. We met Loraine over four years ago in the midst of the Aliso Canyon Gas Blowout. Her family was sickened by the gas, and Loraine immediately got involved. She brought her science background and inquisitive mind to our community meetings. She helped organize demonstrations, attended advocacy visits with government officials, and she and her husband knocked on doors to collect public health surveys from their neighbors. Her involvement in her community grew from there as she took on issues of homelessness, housing, and clean energy with the same passion. When government inaction became a roadblock, Loraine decided to run for office.

Loraine has enjoyed a surge of grassroots support in the 2019 cycle with historic results. She beat the entire field in the 2019 primary, including the Republican establishment favorite John Lee. Loraine has a vision for getting L.A. off fossil fuels toward a robust clean energy economy that can revitalize our communities, clean up our air, and provide thousands of jobs. She will be a breath of fresh air in the San Fernando Valley. 

City of Glendale

Dan Brotman for Glendale City Council (at-large seat)

Dan Brotman has been an environmental campaigner and advocate in Glendale for many years and was heavily involved in a successful campaign to stop the expansion of the Grayson Power Plant. He will bring experience and vision to Glendale City Hall. 

 

 

L.A. County Board of Supervisors

Holly Mitchell – District 2 

Ca. Senator Holly Mitchell is a fighter — she was one of the first elected officials in the California legislature to stick her neck out on banning fracking, even when her colleagues warned her against it. Since that time she’s been an ally in the fight against the spread of more oil drilling in Los Angeles, and wants to ensure that proper measures are taken to protect L.A. communities for oil drilling.

Darrell Park – District 5

Darrell is a proven leader on local environmental issues. From the early days of the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility blowout on the west end of County District 5, Darrell has been a tireless voice demanding accountability, public health and safety, and the permanent closure of Aliso Canyon. His opponent, Katherine Barger, campaigned hard on supporting the Valley community on this issue, but immediately after her election closed her doors to ailing community members, and only revisited the issue as her election came near.

Ventura County Supervisors 

Carmen Ramirez – District 5

Carmen Ramirez has a long-standing record for environmental and social justice in Ventura County, most recently as the Mayor pro tem of Oxnard. In her position, she voted to stop the re-powering of the Puente gas-fired power plant in favor of renewable energy. Carmen also voted to pass and re-extend a moratorium on drilling in Oxnard Tar Sands to protect drinking water. It’s no wonder she’s caught the ire of the fossil fuel industry—she’s not afraid to stand up for communities over their profits. 

Kim Marra Stephenson – District 3

Kim Stephenson is a school principal in Oxnard running in a swing district to replace an incumbent heavily funded by oil interests. Her opponent has already benefited from Big Oil spending to the tune of $825,000. Kim is the clear choice for a district riddled with oil drilling, fossil fuel projects because she’s not afraid to stand up to that industry. 

Santa Barbara County Supervisors

Joan Hartmann – District 3

Joan Hartmann has a long track record for environmental advocacy in Santa Barbara. As supervisor she is battling to keep her seat against a Big Oil supporter. The District includes Isla Vista – home to UCSB, the Santa Ynez valley, and rural communities along the coast. Joan brings passion to her environmental work and told us in an interview that she wants to leave a world that’s better off for future generations. 

Congressional

Adam Balaños Scow – 20th District 

Adam Scow California CD-20Adam is running for Congress in California’s 20th district, located in what’s known as the salad bowl of the world, to represent Monterey and part of Santa Cruz County. Formerly the Ca. Director of Food & Water Watch, Adam is a proven fighter for clean air, clean water and healthy communities. His track record speaks for itself. He stood up to fossil fuel interests and banned fracking in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties to protect communities, farmworkers and groundwater. Adam currently serves as senior strategist for the Public Water Now campaign, which is actively pursuing public ownership of the Monterey Peninsula’s water system. Adam’s commitment and track record in solving the climate crisis easily makes him our top pick. 

As we continue to fight our local campaigns and build on our electoral successes, we are going to need more resources to win. With your support, we believe we can sustain these efforts and shift politics away from fossil fuel interests across California. 

Will you become a monthly supporter of our growing electoral work at Food & Water Action? Together we can elect more community leaders ready to become food, water and climate champions to give California a cleaner future.

SUPPORT THIS WORK!

Bloomberg Is Not A Climate Champion

February 24, 2020
 Climate Democracy
Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is betting that he can buy the Democratic nomination. With a voting base that’s increasingly savvy about climate catastrophe and fracking, it may not be that easy.

Bloomberg Is Not A Climate Champion

Billionaire Michael Blooomberg has stormed his way into the Democratic presidential race, thanks to his campaign pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into advertising across the country. This approach appears to be paying off; some national polls put him in second place in the crowded field, and he’s even leading in some states, despite skipping the first round of primaries and caucuses. 

Part of Bloomberg’s appeal is that he has fashioned himself as a climate champion. A closer look at that record, however, reveals a meager, middle-of-the-road approach that is totally out of touch with what is needed to combat the climate crisis.

Michael Bloomberg Is Propping Up Fracking — And Profiting From It 

Bloomberg’s climate reputation rests on his financial support for the Sierra Club’s campaign against coal power plants. But these campaigns cannot make up for his long record supporting fracking and fracked gas. While he boasted on the Nevada debate stage that these efforts have ‘shut down’ coal facilities, the reality is that the industry has faced mounting financial obstacles, much of it due to a shift towards cheaper fracked gas-fired electricity generation. And that is why this approach fails as climate advocacy: Supporting the switch from one form of dirty fossil fuel pollution to another puts us on a climate-threat treadmill. 

Bloomberg didn’t “accidentally” support the fracking boom. He’s long been a champion of the industry. He opposed the fracking ban movement in New York state (we know because we led the movement), and hypes fracked gas as a ‘bridge fuel’. In an op-ed he wrote with fracking CEO George P. Mitchell in 2012, he called fracking “the most significant development in the U.S. energy sector in generations.” 

And Bloomberg has a financial stake in the fracking boom, too. As documented by Derek Seidman, the Bloomberg fortune is managed by the firm Willett Advisors, which is invested in oil and gas companies. Willett’s CEO Steven Rattner also makes appearances in the media as a pundit, like this New York Times op-ed where he criticizes Elizabeth Warren for supporting a ban on fracking.

And Bloomberg has long championed corporate trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would drive additional fossil fuel exports and sabotage global efforts to combat the the climate crisis.  

Bloomberg Hasn’t Evolved With The Times

The evidence that fracked gas is a climate disaster continues to mount. But has this caused Michael Bloomberg to change his tune? Based on his comments at the Nevada presidential debate, it seems not.

“We’re not going to get rid of fracking for a while,” he said at one point. “It is a technique, and when it’s done poorly, like they’re doing in too many places where the methane gets out into the air, it is very damaging. But it’s a transition fuel.”

He’s wrong, by the way. Of course, the gas industry has spent decades propagating this ‘bridge fuel’ myth. But to make matters more confusing, Bloomberg also acknowledged that the climate crisis is much worse than previously thought: “We want to go to all renewables. But that’s still many years from now… The world is coming apart faster than any scientific study had predicted. We’ve just got to do something now.” If Bloomberg actually believes that, then he would have to conclude that fracking cannot be part of that future.

And it’s important to understand that Bloomberg’s pro-fracking position is in keeping with his overall climate vision.  When The Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund evaluated the candidates’ climate policies, Bloomberg received a score of 1 out of 10 — tied with Amy Klobuchar for last place.

Things Bloomberg Could Do If He Cared About Climate

If Bloomberg really wanted to do something about climate change:

  • He could be spending the $464 million he has dropped on his campaign so far helping to elect real climate champions to Congress. 
  • He could have paid to install over 250 megawatts of wind energy. 
  • He could have paid to install 20 kilowatt rooftop solar systems on more than 8300 homes. 

Instead, he’s standing on the debate stage continuing to promote dangerous, climate destroying drilling.

Back in that 2012 op-ed, Bloomberg wrote: “We can frack safely if we frack sensibly. That may not make for a great bumper sticker. It does make for good environmental and economic policy.” He’s wrong on almost every count. Fracking can’t be done safely, and it’s been an environmental policy disaster. Bloomberg might be able to buy his way into the presidential race, but he cannot purchase a remotely adequate climate plan. 

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Virginia’s So-Called Clean Economy Act is a Racket and a Taxpayer Drain

February 19, 2020
 Climate
Virginia is primed for meaningful climate action, and the Virginia Clean Economy Act on its face may seem like a step in the right direction. But under closer scrutiny, the bill exposes itself as a handout to industry, a shoddy and possibly irreparable foundation for good climate policy, and a taxpayer drain.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is far from an climate champion, but he desperately wants you to think he is. Although he takes copious amounts of money from the fossil fuel industry, regularly enters closed-door meetings with dirty energy execs, and refuses to put a stop to the dangerous fossil fuel projects snaking their way through Virginia’s communities, Northam wants you to like him and give him credit he doesn’t deserve on climate policy. 

The Clean Economy Act Is A Toothless Piece Of Token Legislation

Northam’s latest faux-green move is to sell Virginians on legislation that claims to tackle climate change, but doesn’t actually stop new fossil fuel projects in the state or limit the use of dirty energy. Under the guise of a “pragmatic” compromise, the Virginia Clean Economy Act basically just mimics the commitments utilities have already made to lower their fossil fuel reliance — but in their own timeframes, always protecting their own profits. What good is a piece of climate legislation that doesn’t rein in polluters? 

In just the past five years, Virginia has okayed six  fracked gas plants, the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Transco Expansion pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate extension, the three pipelines that are part of the Header expansion project, as well as a number of compressor stations.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) is a Trojan horse that Northam is sending into our climate advocacy ranks. He hopes we’ll see it as a gift, but it’s only going to hurt climate progress and come back to bite us. It sets unambitious deadlines, puts us in cahoots with industry, and hurts taxpayers. SB 851 and its companion HB 1526 just passed both chambers of the state legislature, but still requires a few more rounds of votes before becoming law. If this bill passes, Virginians will be trapped with its inadequate foundations for decades to come, thwarting real, equitable clean and renewable energy development. 

The “Renewable Portfolio Standard” Is Full Of Dirty Energy Loopholes

The bill is sneaky with how it defines clean energy for Virginia’s renewable energy program. Line 1278 of SB851 demonstrates some of these tricky tactics:

“Zero-carbon electricity” means electricity generated by any generating unit that does not emit carbon dioxide as a byproduct of combusting fuel to generate electricity.

There are two big issues with this. The first is that defining “zero-carbon” as zero carbon dioxide ignores dangerous and widespread carbon emissions that are not carbon dioxide — methane, for instance, a main byproduct of fracking of burning fracked gas, which is four times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2.

Another big issue is that the “zero-carbon” language leaves room for nuclear energy, which may not emit carbon dioxide but is not clean or renewable by any stretch of the imagination. To this day, we have no foolproof way of disposing of radioactive waste, among other structural issues.

Another gigantic loophole is that “zero carbon” may leave room for a company to pursue carbon sequestration technology as a substitute for actually lowering fossil fuel usage. Carbon sequestration — the act of capturing carbon dioxide before it’s emitted into the air and then storing it — is harebrained. These schemes are overly ambitious and often ineffective, with no long-term guarantee they will actually keep carbon out of the atmosphere. They also don’t force us to change our bad fossil fuel habits, which pollute the environment and hurt human health long before any gas, oil, or coal ever gets burned. 

Just last week Dominion claimed that carbon sequestration will be a big part of how they’re getting to 100% “clean energy” by 2050. But that doesn’t sound like clean energy, it sounds like excuses to keep gas plants running (and pumping other pollutants into the air, which sicken surrounding communities) long past the 2050 deadline. And the VCEA permits that. Just get a load of this line from the bill: 

By December 31, 2030, any Phase II Utility shall retire any coal-fired electric generating units located in the coalfields region of the Commonwealth that co-fires with biomass, unless such facility can demonstrate at least 83 percent reduction in carbon emissions through capture and sequestration.

So, by employing risky and ill-conceived sequestration methods, the coal or gas industry can continue on with the status quo, which pollutes communities and will never be without a significant greenhouse gas impact. That doesn’t sound much like progress at all. What we need to do is halt the construction of new plans and shut down old ones.

Virginia's Clean Economy Act is a racket and a taxpayer drain.

The Clean Economy Act Is A Ratepayer-Funded Racket

The bill’s largest flaw is that it dumps all prospective costs for the new renewables standards onto consumers, rather than handing the bill to utilities companies, who will continue to prioritize profits over the public good. The bill directs the State Corporation Commission to approve any rate hikes meant to pursue the Renewable Portfolio Standard goal, which will land squarely on customers. The fossil fuel industry should be made to pay for our desperately-needed clean and renewable energy transition. Virginia’s families and communities, who’ve had too little say on the use of dangerous fossil fuels and the buildout of reckless fossil fuel infrastructure in the state, shouldn’t see the money coming out of their wallets.  

The State Corporation Commission estimates projected costs in the billions of dollars — and that’s just not in the monthly budget for Virginia’s families. The language even lets utilities pass any penalty costs on to consumers for not meeting the renewable standard goals required by the legislation, even though it’s the utilities, not the consumers, who would be guilty of the violation. The utility companies, which are notorious for charging unfair rates to customers to boost their bottom lines and for suppressing progress on renewables, need to be the ones footing the bill — but this legislation lets them pass it right on to ratepayers.

Until the corporations, and not the consumers, are held accountable for their negligent behavior, we simply cannot afford the VCEA, financially or otherwise.

A Just And Equitable Transition? Not So Fast.

One of the reasons Food & Water Action got so excited about Virginia’s Green New Deal Act was that the legislation provided specific provisions to bolster underserved communities and those who’ve already had to deal with the negative impacts of climate change. It made sure the transition to a green economy was fair and equitable; that utilities would shoulder costs instead of families; that removing gas plants, pipelines, and other polluting infrastructure from the communities they sicken is a first priority; and that those workers who’ve relied on the fossil fuel industry for their income would receive training and employment in well-paying clean energy jobs. Those policies are a win for everyone. 

The VCEA’s language on the transition is weak, and although the bill promises to “identify” and “prioritize” local workers, low-income communities, and people of color, it never says exactly how. Without clear policies in place to protect and empower these groups, it would be easy for a company to meet the letter of the law without actually engaging the spirit of the environmental justice movement — which strives to ensure that those most impacted by climate catastrophe and pollution receive the most help and have their demands uplifted.

Bills Like This Are Often Schemes To Subsidize Dirty Energy Suppliers

Meanwhile, the industry is already lobbying to ensure gas plants, nuclear power, and waste-to-energy schemes receive subsidies from the government. Legislators in Richmond are already eyeing bills that build more reliance on nuclear energy in order to meet the 100% renewable energy by 2050 deadline. A bill that died recently stipulated that gas and coal plants could even identify themselves as renewables if they employed a certain percentage of carbon capture. These are the sorts of bills we will continually be up against in Virginia. This scheming to prop up the fossil fuel industry must stop if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but VCEA opens the door to even more of it.

Stopping The Virginia Clean Economy Act Is Crucial For Our Climate Future

You’ll hear some who claim they’re part of the climate movement say that we need to just hold our noses and pass this bill, and that it’s the only piece of environmental legislation with a chance of making it into law this session. But that small token isn’t worth all the time we’ll spend in the future trying to repair the terrible foundations of this bill. Virginia deserves aggressive climate legislation that actually serves the state’s communities and isn’t a handout to industry.

The reality is that we can’t pass this bill now and hope to fix it down the track. We have to stop this train before it leaves the station.

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We Banned Fracking. So Why Does New York Accept Fracking Waste?

February 10, 2020
 Climate Water

A shocking Rolling Stone investigation uncovered the radioactive dangers of fracking waste. Now a new bill aims to close the dangerous oil and gas loophole.

Five years ago, a huge grassroots movement, led in part by Food & Water Watch, stopped fracking in New York state. That much you probably know.

But did you know that a loophole in state law exempts oil and gas waste from the normal testing of hazardous materials? That means that in the past decade, over 650,000 tons and 23,000 barrels of oil and gas waste from Pennsylvania has been disposed of in New York landfills. Leachate from those landfills can contaminate nearby rivers and streams, some of which can be drinking water sources.

Fracking is depleting our water faster than initially known.

We need to change that. And we have the legislation to get the job done right now.

SIGN TO SUPPORT THE BILL!

Fracking Is A Public Health Threat

Fracking and drilling waste threaten our water and public health. An explosive investigation in Rolling Stone magazine shed some light on the dangers posed by this waste stream, which is being dumped into landfills, trucked hundreds of miles across several states, and even used as a de-icer or a dust suppressant on roads.

We banned fracking because it was a threat to New York. The waste created by fracking is extremely dangerous too; it can contain carcinogenic chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde, and includes radioactive materials as well.

Help Get Dirty Fracking Waste Out Of New York

Hundreds of organizations across New York signed a letter to state legislators urging swift passage of S.3392/A.2655. Now we need you to join the fight to keep dirty fracking waste out of New York. 

CLOSE THIS LOOPHOLE!

Banning Fracking is a Political Winner

February 5, 2020
 Climate Democracy

Conventional wisdom says anti-fracking Democrats will lose swing states. But facts say otherwise.

When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide ban on fracking in 2014, only one US senator – Bernie Sanders – supported a ban.  

Things have changed dramatically since then. Maryland and Washington state have banned fracking, and many more senators — including Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley — are supporting a ban on fracking.

There’s one simple explanation for this shift: the growing recognition that we need to move rapidly off fossil fuels to avoid the worst of the climate crisis. That means stopping dangerous drilling and embarking on a rapid, just transition to 100% renewable energy.

But lately there has been a lot of hand-wringing in the media saying that supporting a fracking ban will hurt Democrats in the general election – especially in heavily fracked battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. The evidence says otherwise. 

In fact, recent polling and electoral data clearly shows that support for a fracking ban is a political winner. Democratic presidential candidates would be wise to support a fracking ban as part of a Green New Deal to move America off fossil fuels and onto 100% renewable energy.

First, Democrats (and Independents) don’t like fracking.

National polling shows Democrats overwhelmingly oppose fracking. According to a poll commissioned by Data for Progress in September 2019: 

  • 63% of Democrats supported a fracking ban
  • Only 19% opposed a ban
  • Among independent voters, 44% supported a fracking ban – a plurality of those surveyed, including many who are eligible to vote in certain Democratic primaries

In another September poll from AP/NORC, just 9% of Democrats and 16% of independents supported increased fracking. 

Fracking is particularly unpopular in critical primary states. Take a look at California, the biggest Super Tuesday prize: Polling in 2016 by PPIC showed that 69% of Democrats and 61% of independents oppose increased fracking. Governor Gavin Newsom campaigned in 2018 on a platform opposing fracking, and a fracking ban passed in oil-producing Monterey County by a 56% to 44% margin despite massive spending by the fossil fuel industry.

Then there’s the primary in Florida, a state where activists are pushing to ban fracking. A 2019 survey by Florida Atlantic University found that 61% of Democrats support a fracking ban. Meanwhile, even right-wing Governor Ron DeSantis campaigned in support of a ban.

But fracking is popular in swing states… right? Not really. 

Conventional wisdom suggests that voters in swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio are enthusiastic backers of fracking. This is simply not the case. A new poll from Franklin & Marshall of registered voters in Pennsylvania found 48% support a ban on fracking, while 39% oppose it. 

The same survey finds 49% of Pennsylvanians say that the negative environmental impacts of gas drilling are not worth the supposed economic benefits. That’s up from 33% just a few years ago. The same survey in 2018 found that 69 percent of state residents think Pennsylvania should prioritize renewable energy; just 18 percent wanted to prioritize coal and gas. 

A similar dynamic exists in Florida, the largest swing state with the most electoral votes up for grabs. While the poll cited above found that a fracking ban is overwhelmingly popular among Democrats, a third of Floridians who voted for Trump also support a ban.

Of course there is no firm evidence that a candidate’s position on fracking would be a dealbreaker for voters. But even the industry’s preferred argument — “fracking delivers jobs to hard-hit regions” — is undermined by the hundreds of jobs drilling companies have axed in Pennsylvania in recent months due to fracking’s plummeting profitability. 

Anti-fracking candidates in Pennsylvania are winning. 

The most serious blow to conventional wisdom about fracking’s role in elections comes from simply looking at recent results. A series of recent local races across Pennsylvania support the argument that standing strong against fossil fuels can be a winner.

CASE IN POINT

Summer Lee, Elizabeth Fiedler, and Danielle Otten are progressive champions running for the Pennsylvania legislature.
           Summer Lee, Elizabeth Fiedler, and Danielle Otten.

In 2018, anti-fracking candidates Summer Lee, Sara Innamorato and Elizabeth Fiedler won their state legislative races. 

And the communities fighting the Mariner East pipelines in Chester County took their movement to the ballot box, flipping a key Republican-held state legislative district by electing Danielle Friel Otten to represent the 155th District. 

These candidates all won competitive races or Democratic primaries, unseating incumbents who were unwilling to take on the powerful fracking industry.

The 2019 elections delivered more evidence of this trend. An intense battle over a plan to lease a park for drilling in the Republican-leaning Pittsburgh suburb of Franklin Park led anti-fracking Democratic candidates to run for seats on the City Council; three of four succeeded. The same thing occurred in East Pittsburgh, where a proposal to build a fracking well at a local steel mill has drawn intense community opposition.

Fracking isn’t just a political ‘wedge issue.’

Aside from the political outcomes of banning fracking, it remains clear that fracking has been disastrous for the communities bearing the public health consequences of drilling. Fracking contaminates drinking water, and takes a much heavier toll on water resources than previously thought: A Duke University team found that water use per well had increased dramatically—as much as 770 percent—and the amount of toxic wastewater produced by drilling was also on the rise.

The impacts of fracking go much deeper. Physicians for Social Responsibility and Concerned Health Professionals of New York recently compiled the sixth edition of their compendium summarizing the findings from hundreds of different research projects, bolstering the conclusion that fracking is a threat to our air, water and climate.

In southwest Pennsylvania, an outbreak of rare, deadly childhood cancers has become a major concern, with families and advocacy groups demanding that Governor Tom Wolf probe the possible connection to gas drilling in the area. Plus, the recent blockbuster report by Justin Noble in Rolling Stone documents the serious health threats posed by radioactive drilling waste, especially in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Drilling backers insist employment should be the only metric considered for fracking’s impact. But according to a new study, costs from premature deaths and climate harm clearly outweigh the economic benefits. 

The climate crisis is a key issue for voters, making fracking a serious liability.

An increasing number of voters consider climate a top priority. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found over 70% of Democrats think this crisis demands immediate action; almost 50% of independents felt the same way. And a Pew survey this year found that two-thirds of Democrats say climate should be a top priority for the next president; only 46% said the same four years ago.

Surveys also show strong support for taking bold action. A March 2019 Data For Progress poll showed that 59% of Americans support a Green New Deal, with only 29% opposed. A more recent NPR/Marist poll found 63% support the Green New Deal. Notably, candidates that have advocated a ban on fracking have done so as part of broader plans for a Green New Deal. 

The link between fracking and climate change is crystal clear—and the evidence keeps piling up. While carbon dioxide emissions from coal have been going down, emissions from methane, the primary component of natural gas, have been rising so fast over the past several years that they have essentially negated coal’s decline. Fracking isn’t a bridge to clean energy — it’s deepening our dependence on climate-wrecking fossil fuels.

Smart political leaders should easily see that seeking to ban fracking is a win with voters.

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