The talk among progressives and the Democratic establishment this week has centered largely on the stunning upset victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over party stalwart Rep. Joe Crowley in a Congressional primary in a working-class district of New York City on Tuesday. Ocasio-Cortez’s solidly progressive, impressively ambitious platform has rightly been heralded by pundits and the media as a new marker for equality-minded leadership in Congress. Particular attention has been paid to her bold climate and energy agenda.
Ocasio-Cortez’s climate agenda is based on a strong, clear, and unambiguous call for 100% clean, renewable energy in America by 2035, and a “green new deal” of economic and environmental justice. We need more voices like hers in the next Congress. Fortunately, we may soon have them.
Support for Full Renewable Transition Growing
There is already a growing movement in Congress to pass legislation that would give America completely clean energy by 2035 – the platform Ocasio-Cortez campaigned on – and there are dozens of Congressional candidates aligned with the movement waiting in the wings to join her in D.C. in January.
Last September, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) introduced the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future (OFF) Act, which among other things would ban all new fossil fuel extraction and move the country to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2035, all while prioritizing environmental justice and ensuring a just transition. This is by far the strongest, most comprehensive, most aggressive climate and energy legislation ever introduced. Currently, 35 members of Congress have co-sponsored the bill, formally adding their voices to the call for its passage into law.
Food & Water Action Leads on Climate Change
Last year, Food & Water Action stood with Rep. Gabbard and original co-sponsors Reps. Nanette Barragan, Barbara Lee, Ted Lieu and Jamie Raskin as they introduced the bill and helped kick off the campaign to rally support for this critical legislation around the country. More than 400 groups including Progressive Democrats of America, National Nurses United, Democratic Socialists of America, Our Revolution, and a host of grassroots organizations from coast to coast endorse the OFF Act and are organizing to move it forward.
Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a compete energy transformation by 2035 is consistent with science and follows her pledge to co-sponsor the OFF Act when she is in congress. In fact, she was one of the very first Congressional candidates to do so. And she’s not alone. More than 100 federal candidates have pledged to support the OFF Act – so far, 23 of them have won their primary fights and will compete in the general election in November.
A Growing Climate Caucus in the Next Congress
A handful of these candidates, including Ocasio-Cortez and Deb Haaland (NM-1), are in largely Democratic districts and are certain to join Gabbard in fighting for the OFF Act in Congress next year. Many others constitute some of the most competitive and high-profile races in the country. These include Katie Hill, who is taking on Steve Knight in CA-25, Katie Porter, who is taking on Mimi Walters in CA-45, Kara Eastman, who defeated a former congressman in her primary and will be taking on Don Bacon in NE-2, Liuba Grechen Shirley, who will be taking on Peter King in NY-2, and Gil Cisneros, who will be competing for the open seat vacated by Ed Royce in CA-39. In Wisconsin, both Randy Bryce and Cathy Myers, who are running to replace retiring speaker Paul Ryan, have pledged to support the OFF Act.
While it is not clear who will emerge victorious in all of these and other competitive races in November, what is clear is that when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez heads to Congress in January, she will be in strong company in her fight to address the climate crisis. She will be joining a growing number of fighters for climate justice in the critical struggle to protect our planet and all people living on it.
Advocates for 100% clean energy received a boost Sunday night at a gubernatorial candidates forum in Montgomery County. After a pre-forum rally where dozens of activists gathered in support of the campaign, candidates were asked if they supported moving Maryland to 100% clean energy by 2035. Five of the seven Democratic candidates — Krish Vignarajah, Jim Shea, Alec Ross, Rich Madaleno and Ben Jealous– all said yes. Kevin Kamenetz was generally supportive but qualified his answer, and Rushern Baker was not present at the forum.
“It’s great to have so many candidates for governor supporting bold climate action,” said Thomas Meyer, Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Action. “Climate change and fossil fuels represent an enormous threat to Maryland, and we’re running out of time to act. Maryland leaders, and all those asking for our votes this year, should be pushing for aggressive and justice-based policies that move our state off fossil fuels and onto 100% clean renewable energy.”
A bill introduced this year in the Maryland General Assembly would require utilities in the state to purchase all of their electricity from clean sources by 2035. The 100% Clean Renewable Energy & Equity Act, which is sponsored by 48 Delegates, also includes features designed to improve public health, protect low-income households and stimulate job growth in Maryland.
The movement to transition off of fossil fuels and onto 100% clean energy continues to grow across the country. In addition to Maryland, lawmakers in New York, New Jersey and Virginia are introducing similar legislation that would move their states to 100% clean electricity by 2035 or sooner.
Earlier this month, Food & Water Action joined Save Porter Ranch and dozens of residents from communities surrounding the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility at the first Gubernatorial Town Hall at the University of Southern California to call on the candidates to support the shutdown of the dangerous facility. Aliso Canyon was the site of a 2015 gas blowout—the worst in U.S. history—and families in the surrounding area continue to experience health symptoms from ongoing leaks.
Town Hall Moderators Ignore Aliso Canyon
Residents submitted more than 100 questions on the issue to the moderators from local NPR and ABC affiliates at the panel sponsored by the Empowerment Congress and a Los Angeles County Supervisor. Unfortunately, the moderators did not ask the candidates about Aliso Canyon, but rather focused their questions about climate change on recent fires, mudslides, first responders and disaster preparedness. Community members were disappointed that the moderators missed the opportunity to question the candidates about the effect of the continued use of fossil fuels on climate change and any plans the gubernatorial hopefuls might have to transition California to renewable energy.
However, a press conference before the event garnered extensive local coverage on television and in the Los Angeles Times.
Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates on Aliso Canyon
After the Town Hall, residents affected by Aliso Canyon were able to buttonhole the Democratic candidates to ask about their support for shutting down the dangerous gas fields.
Former California Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin promised to shut down Aliso Canyon promptly if elected. She also supports a ban on fracking and said it was “outrageous” that Aliso Canyon is still open.
Frontrunner Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom at first agreed with current Governor Jerry Brown that it would take up to ten years to decommission the gas facility. Once residents pointed out that thousands are suffering from health effects like nosebleeds, headaches and respiratory symptoms, he pledged to look into it.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa claimed ignorance on the issue but promised to follow up.
State Treasurer John Chiang also said he needs to look into it.
Food & Water Action, Save Porter Ranch and families in the San Fernando Valley plan to continue to pressure Governor Brown to shut down Aliso Canyon before he leaves office next year. If he fails, if will be up to the new governor to take action, and the candidates have been put on notice.
Last week, my friend Tara Zrinski was sworn into office as Northampton County Councilwoman. I have worked with Tara for several years, as she has led the local fight for a renewable energy future as the Lehigh Valley Local Coordinator for Food & Water Watch, and I’m excited to see her continue this fight as an elected official.
Tara’s victory is a win for the Lehigh Valley environmental movement, and an important step towards sustainability for Northampton County. But it’s also a model for how our movement can build power through elections.
People around Pennsylvania are angry about the direction that the so-called leaders in Harrisburg are taking our state. As the fracking industry has occupied our state for over a decade, more and more Pennsylvanians are seeing through the lies that oil and gas drilling is about enriching families. They understand the industry is exploiting communities at every step of the fossil fuel life cycle. Many of those people are getting organized, working at the grassroots to fight fracking wells, seismic surveys, pipelines, compressor stations, and cracker plants.
But when that grassroots power is being directed towards decision-makers who are unwilling to stand up for their communities, we need to take the next step. We need to fire the elected officials who are more responsive to the fracking industry than they are to their communities, and we must replace them with our movement’s leaders.
For years, Tara has worked to protect her community from the PennEast pipeline, which is proposed to run through the Lehigh Valley as it takes fracked gas from northeast Pennsylvania across the Delaware River and into New Jersey. Along with leaders of communities up and down the pipeline route, Tara has fought hard to stop this dangerous pipeline. And they have had tremendous success: The pipeline has faced significant delays, as landowners and other stakeholders on both sides of the Delaware have stood up to the corporations behind the PennEast project.
It was during this fight that Tara realized she could do more than just educate local elected officials along the pipeline route. She knew she had the experience and skill to get herself elected, and the leadership skills necessary to govern. So, Tara launched her campaign for Northampton County Council.
Tara’s campaign was centered around stopping the pipeline and moving the region to a sustainable future. She combined these bold positions with the strongest field program among the 10 candidates vying for five positions. She knocked on thousands of doors, and coordinated a team that knocked on thousands more. The political arm of Food & Water Watch, Food & Water Action, endorsed Tara’s campaign and provided air support, emailing and texting our supporters to educate them about Tara’s candidacy, and reminding them to vote.*
When ballots were counted on election day, Tara cruised to victory, winning the second-highest vote total of all candidates in the field.
So today, I write to congratulate Councilwoman Tara Zrinski, and I look forward to working to support her efforts to keep fracking pipelines out of Lehigh County, to build renewable energy in the region, and to protect the region’s water from irresponsible land use practices.
Tara joins a set of new local elected officials who ran campaigns centered around protecting their community from fossil fuel infrastructure. We look forward to working with new Allegheny County Councilwoman Anita Prizio to ban fracking on county lands, helping new Uwchlan Township Supervisors Bill Miller and Mayme Baumann stop the Mariner East 2 pipeline from running through their community, and working with an entirely new majority of Councilmembers in Jessup Borough to protect their community from what would be the largest gas-fired power plant in the country.
These victories aren’t accidents; they represent a trend of communities standing up to protect themselves using all tactics and strategies available, including elections.
*After announcing her campaign, Tara stepped away from her work with Food & Water Watch, and while Food & Water Action endorsed her candidacy, we did not coordinate.
More than 100 U.S. House and Senate Candidates Pledge to Move Off Fossil Fuels. Statement from Food & Water Action Executive Director Wenonah Hauter.
Last year, the country was battered by super-charged hurricanes and wildfires, worsened by droughts, which are now making California more susceptible to deadly mudslides. This winter is likewise proving to be chock-full of extreme weather events, including record-breaking summers in Australia and unrelenting cold in much of the United States, where, in one day in early January, Alaska was warmer than Florida.
These frequent reminders of how climate change impacts our lives—and a year of unprecedented environmental rollbacks and climate denial from the Trump administration—have added fuel to the fire for climate action. Is 2018 the year that climate change becomes a hot-button election issue?
This legislation, introduced last year by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard with now 23 co-sponsors and counting, would halt all new fossil fuel development and commit to a 100% clean energy transition by 2035, with 80% in the next 10 years. It is endorsed by over 400 organizations including Progressive Democrats of America, National Nurses United, People’s Action and Justice Democrats.
Notable Democratic candidates that have already committed to backing the OFF Act include:
Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, challenging Rep. Paul Ryan
Derrick Crowe, a climate scientist running for Rep. Lamar Smith’s empty seat
Food & Water Action is organizing across the country to support the bill, which is the strongest climate legislation to date—because we know that we’ll only see the needed progress on climate change if we build power in states across the country to elect candidates that are unafraid to say what needs to be done and then fight for it.
November 7 was not your usual municipal election in Uwchlan Township, a suburban community in Pennsylvania’s Chester County. First-time political candidates Mayme Baumann and Bill Miller were elected to the Uwchlan Township Board of Supervisors in a landslide, capturing over 60% of the vote in perhaps the highest-turnout municipal election Uwchlan has ever seen.
Why does this matter? Because Mayme and Bill have pledged to enforce Uwchlan’s local safety laws when they take office in a few days. Legal experts believe could block the dangerous Mariner East 2 pipeline from running through their community.
Just next door in West Goshen Township, Mary LaSota and Robin Stuntebeck also won their races for Township Supervisor positions, garnering 57% of the vote. In response to a Food & Water Action questionnaire, LaSota and Stuntebeck committed to investigating the feasibility of enforcing similar local laws in West Goshen.
Food & Water Action organizers and volunteers played a key role in securing these victories, but the real credit here is owed to the growing movement against the Mariner East 2. Communities along the pipeline route have been working for years to get themselves organized. Those community leaders standing up to protect their neighbors is what got Food & Water Action involved in this fight.
In August of 2016, I got a call from Eve Miari, a resident of Delaware County. Eve and I had worked together several years prior to educate people about fracking. Eve is a natural leader: she is passionate, well-organized, and an effective communicator. Eve’s call came as I was on the train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, a nearly eight-hour trip from one corner of Pennsylvania to the other. She told me about a pipeline that would run the opposite route of my train ride: the Mariner East 2, which would transport materials known as Highly Volatile Liquids from just outside of Pittsburgh to the Delaware River. I knew a bit about the pipeline; Elise Gerhart, a resident of Huntingdon County, had spoken powerfully about her family’s fight against Sunoco at the March for a Clean Energy Revolution earlier that summer.
I tried my best to be helpful, but the alarm Eve was ringing for me would have to wait a few months (and after we wrapped up a winning campaign in Philadelphia). It all came together on February 5, when I attended a strategy session Eve had organized at a church in Media, PA. I learned just how dangerous these Highly Volatile Liquids were, and I saw firsthand how much passion and energy existed in the fight against this pipeline. People were doing real work, and they were ready to do much more.
Most importantly, I learned that there was a strategic direction. I met Eric Friedman, a resident of Thornbury Township, who told me that because there had been no federal or state action to regulate the routing of the pipeline, municipalities could enforce existing pipeline zoning ordinances. I texted our regional organizer, Sam Rubin: “I’m in Middletown in Delaware County at a mtg about mariner east. Maybe this is a fight for us.”
Rallying Neighbors Against Mariner East 2 in West Goshen
Sam and I decided we’d start our outreach in West Goshen Township, which had an existing pipeline zoning ordinance that had gone unenforced. Sam began his outreach work by organizing door-to-door canvasses in the parts of West Goshen closest to the proposed pipeline route. That’s where we met Erin Morelli, whose family lives less than 900 feet from the route. Erin had been organizing with her neighbors, but had almost given up on stopping the Mariner East 2– until she heard we were walking around town telling people the pipeline could be stopped. Erin stepped away from preparations for her son’s birthday party to hear about what we were trying to do.
Over the next several months, Erin and dozens of others would head over to their Township Board of Supervisors meetings to urge their local elected officials to try to protect the community by enforcing their local laws. The supervisors wouldn’t hear it.
Finding Leaders in Uwchlan to Stop the Pipeline
Pipeline construction started in the spring of 2017, as we were ramping up our outreach in West Goshen. Sunoco, now a part of Energy Transfer Partners, was just as reckless and irresponsible as many had feared. In just a few months, they had over 100 accidents in which they spilled drilling fluid. One of the worst occurred in the Marchwood neighborhood of Uwchlan Township, just a few miles north of West Goshen. Eric and Eve helped us bring together an emergency meeting with the community group Uwchlan Safety Coalition. We learned from community leaders Rebecca Britton, Danielle Otten, and Mayme Baumann that they also had a local safety law, near-identical to the one in West Goshen. But their local Supervisors were refusing to enforce it because they were afraid to stand up to Sunoco. So Mayme and her friend Bill decided to run for the two Supervisor positions up for election. If they won, they would control a majority of the Board (with two out of the three seats), and they could enforce the ordinance.
This was a huge opportunity. Getting Mayme and Bill elected as Township Supervisors could present a huge obstacle to the completion of the pipeline, which would have ramifications extending far beyond the Uwchlan township limits. And we’d have twice the impact if we could also elect two Supervisors candidates in West Goshen, Mary LaSota and Robin Stuntebeck. Food & Water Watch does civic engagement work that advocates on issues, and does not get involved in elections. But if we successfully raised funds for our political arm, Food & Water Action, we could to get involved in these local elections. So that’s exactly what we did.
Stopping Sunoco with People Power
After thousands of phone calls, text messages, and visits to voters’ doors, our candidates won their elections. I am so proud of what we accomplished. We had thousands of conversations with Uwchlan and West Goshen voters about the need to stop the pipeline, educating many of them for the first time, and activating dozens of them to get involved in the movement to stop it. We’ve elected local officials who will do what no one has been willing to do: stand up to Sunoco and their dangerous pipeline.
But most importantly, we’ve helped people realize their own power. Just see this video from Uwchlan’s Danielle Otten about the power of canvassing, which brought me to tears when I watched it the Sunday prior to the election. Danielle’s home is only a few feet from the pipeline route.
It’s exciting that these communities now have leaders who will work to protect them from the pipeline. But it’s downright amazing that what we’ve helped build doesn’t go away after the election. This grassroots infrastructure will still be there weeks, months, and years following the election. That’s important, because it is going to take a lot more work to stop this pipeline for good.
Case in point: the morning after our victory party, I received a message from Jill Bielawski. Jill and two other volunteers, Margaret Quinn and George Alexander, had spent the victory party making plans to do outreach to a community impacted by Sunoco’s recently announced routing change to the pipeline. They wanted to know: Can we use the voter outreach tools we used during the election to reach people even after the election?
I am so excited to continue working with this movement in Chester and Delaware Counties, and elsewhere along the pipeline route, to build the power we’ll need to make sure elected officials at the local and state level do everything they can to stop this pipeline once and for all.
I’m excited because this movement, which recruited our team to help them, has grown so much in the year I’ve just described. And I know that our biggest victories are still ahead of us, because these leaders are determined to make sure this pipeline is defeated.
A Model to Stop Fracking Pipelines
The movement to fight climate change is at its best when we can frame this big, ethereal and daunting issue less about abstractions and more about how climate change is impacting people’s lives right now. We can only build the movement that will defeat the fossil fuel industry by getting large numbers of people to feel deeply and directly impacted by this issue.
Unfortunately, the fracking industry continues to expand its footprint of polluting infrastructure in Pennsylvania. New fracking pipelines, compressor stations, petrochemical facilities, and gas-fired power plants are being proposed seemingly every day. This new infrastructure brings with it public safety hazards, air and water pollution, and the corporate takeover of our state and local governments.
However, these developments also bring opportunities to talk to people about climate change and the fossil fuel industry in a way that feels tangible and compelling to voters. We can win local, state, and even federal elections by talking about issues like the Mariner East 2 pipeline.
This isn’t just happening in Uwchlan and West Goshen Townships. In Northampton County, Tara Zrinski, who worked in her community for years as a Food & Water Watch Local Coordinator, won her race for County Council by running a campaign focused on the PennEast pipeline. In Jessup Borough, the grassroots movement that has for years fought Invenergy’s 1,500 megawatt fracked gas-fired power plant took over majority control of their borough council. And in Allegheny County, the Pittsburgh Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America helped elect Anita Prizio to Allegheny County Council by talking to voters about economic and environmental justice issues like banning fracking in county parks.
Looking forward to 2018, I am eager to support more local leaders in taking the immense amount of grassroots energy in our movement and use it to elect more champions who will stand up to the fracking industry.
Food & Water Action is the sister organization to Food & Water Watch. While donations to Food & Water Action are not tax deductible, this gives us the ability to aggressively lobby legislators on issues that are important to you, support political candidates that will make a difference and engage voters to strengthen our democracy.
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