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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VIDEO: Joe Biden Needs To Commit To A Fracking Ban

May 20, 2020
 Climate Democracy

Joe Biden says he would take steps to regulate fracking emissions, but we know he can and must do better. What we really need is for him to pledge to ban fracking everywhere. 

URGE CONGRESS!

Tell members of Congress you want a ban on fracking. Fight like you live here! 

Our Grassroots Brigade Is Taking Action On Coronavirus

March 20, 2020
 Climate Democracy Water
In times of crisis, we look to our leaders to take bold actions to protect us. Food & Water Action has built the organizing power and our members are using it to push those leaders and protect people. 

When the coronavirus started sweeping the world, we understood that one of the crucial underpinnings of our work would be a huge focus — access to water. We also knew that fossil fuel corporations would try to use this moment as an opportunity to enrich themselves. 

We quickly started planning a two-pronged approach with one simple idea: it’s time to protect people over profit. 

Without Water, How Can You Stop A Virus?

You can’t stop the spread of disease if millions are unable to wash their hands. It is that simple. 

Though we’ve fought over the years to shed light on the water shutoff crisis in America and to combat it, the start of the COVID-19 crisis has been a crucial time for us to double down on our work. 

That’s why we’re demanding a national ban on water shutoffs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of all the hard work of our organizers, members, allies and other across the country in the last two weeks:

  • 13,223 people have co-signed our demand for a national ban on water shutoffs
  • 289 municipalities and states have stopped water shutoffs
  • More than 128 million Americans have been protected because of these actions

It is work like this that makes us proud of our members and our team. You can add your name now, too

BAN SHUTOFFS NOW!

Help Food & Water Action ban water shutoffs to protect the public from coronavirus.

Hey Fossil Fuels! Get Your Hands Off The Taxpayers’ Emergency Funds

Predictably, as the need for travel plummeted and sunk the already flailing profits of the oil and gas industry to new lows, billionaire fossil fuel execs started cozying up to Trump hoping for a government handout. 

Relief money belongs to the taxpayers — to everyday Americans who are sacrificing so much to stop the pandemic — and it needs to go to initiatives like economic stimulus packages, tests for sick Americans, and vaccine research. The last thing the taxpayers need is to subsidize an industry whose business is already putting us in danger by depleting our water, poisoning our air and soil, and contributing to climate change. 

That’s why we quickly acted to send a message to Congress: No Bailout For Fossil Fuel Companies! 

15,736 of our members agree, and the number is growing by the day. Will you sign on?

ADD YOUR NAME!

The Moment Is Here To Work Harder Than Ever To Protect People

We’ve been growing Food & Water Action’s team and membership for 15 years. We’ve seen a lot of wins, and we’ve developed scrappy, smart strategies to defeat the corporations that want to steer our legislators. 

Everything we’ve learned in these fights has brought us to this moment, when we are all able to band together and be truly useful in the fight to protect the public from disease and opportunistic predators like the fossil fuel corporations. 

Will you join us by making a monthly donation so we can continue this imperative work to protect our food, water, and climate?

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Fight like you live here. 

See How Virginia’s Law-Making Session Did On Climate In 2020

March 19, 2020
 Climate Democracy
This year, Virginia’s legislative session was the most climate-oriented it’s ever been. But that doesn’t mean it was all good climate action. Here’s how it shook out.

In this year’s Virginia legislative session, the environment was a central focus. While the energy industry had more of a hand than they should in shaping new climate law, there were still a few good first steps for Virginia’s public health, communities, and environmental movement. We have a lot to be proud of, and a lot to keep fighting for.

The Virginia Green New Deal Act Gained Grassroots Support

This session started with a groundswell of grassroots activity. Food & Water Action, Sunrise Virginia, the Green New Deal Coalition and others rolled out Virginia-specific Green New Deal legislation. The Green New Deal Act, authored by Delegate Sam Rasoul, set ambitious but necessary goals to bolster an equitable transition to 100% clean and renewable energy in Virginia by 2036. 

Rasoul’s bill would end the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure in Virginia and emphasize equity by prioritizing the communities already most impacted by climate change and fossil fuel pollution. It also guarantees assistance for transitioning to green energy jobs for all current fossil fuel workers, calming fears that curbing the fossil fuel industry would lead to an economic downturn.

While the Virginia Green New Deal ultimately hit snags that tabled it for this year’s session, the momentum it gained in such a short period, and the grassroots environmental coalition that rose up around it, show the staying power a fair and just environmental movement has in Virginia.

The Virginia Clean Economy Act Is A Red Herring

This loophole-riddled competitor to Green New Deal legislation set some climate benchmarks, but not nearly enough when we consider what Virginia needs to prepare for the future. For instance, it aims for a transition to clean energy by the year 2050 — even though IPCC scientists have told us this transition needs to take place 15 years earlier, at the latest, to stave off the worst impacts of climate change. In addition, the Clean Economy Act provides loopholes through which dirty fuels can stay in the “clean” energy mix, and it doesn’t push fossil fuel corporations or utilities beyond the minimal goals they’ve already set for themselves.

Food & Water Action’s advocacy against the Virginia Clean Economy Act aimed to amend the bill to include stronger protections for ratepayers and environmental justice, more ambitious goals, and fewer loopholes. This resulted in some shallow changes, but the drafters still failed to fix the bill’s many problematic shortcomings. However, lawmakers became keenly aware of how this bill would harm ratepayers, which led to many of them supporting Delegate Rasoul’s eleventh hour amendments to improve it. Unfortunately, House leadership prioritized industry profits over ratepayers and failed to pass Rasoul’s changes. Now the Clean Economy Act is headed to Governor Northam’s desk. He has the power to make changes to significantly strengthen it, though this seems unlikely.

Bans on Fracking & Offshore Drilling Are Clear Wins

Last week, after passing through the Virginia House, a bill banning hydraulic fracturing in certain parts of the state also passed through the Senate. This is an excellent start to what could hopefully turn into a statewide ban on fracking, which puts communities at risk and contaminates drinking water. The forward advance of a bill like this shows that fossil fuel monopolies no longer have the stranglehold on Virginia’s politics that they once had. 

Additionally, a bill prohibiting offshore drilling 50 miles or more off Virginia’s coast was signed by the Virginia House Speaker and Senate President last week. It removes policy supporting federal efforts to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, and protects Virginia’s coastline from the all-too-familiar disasters that accompany offshore drilling. It is a win, to be sure.

Dirty Nuclear Gets a Seal of “Clean” Approval & A Bad Idea Gets Floated

In spite of mounting evidence that nuclear energy is not clean, safe, or equitable, both the Virginia House and Senate moved forward in recognizing it as a “clean” source of power this session. This unfortunate move is particularly dangerous because it could derail investments in truly clean and renewable energy — like wind and solar — in favor of subsidies to prop up aging nuclear facilities and pay for extractive mining of nuclear materials. 

A separate bill moved to recognize clean energy specifically as any energy source that is “carbon-free” — once again, a loophole that could include nuclear. Instead of committing to phasing out nuclear, Virginia is digging itself deeper into that ditch.

Yet another bill showcased the misguided vision that Virginia’s delegates have for energy: more natural gas as “transition fuel,” as well as new carbon sequestration techniques, which, if used, could allow fossil fuel plants to stay open for decades. The reason? Climate legislation in 2020 ran with the goal of making things “carbon-free” or “carbon-neutral,” which concerns itself with carbon emissions and not many of the other problems inherent with fossil fuel production. Carbon sequestration is a harebrained solution without any technological viability, and treating it as a long-term “solution” enables corporations to continue with business as usual.

The Year Ahead For Virginia’s Climate Solutions

Next year, lawmakers need to prioritize real climate solutions that don’t give way to industry interests. The Green New Deal Act was the only solution proposed this year ambitious enough to combat the climate crisis. Virginia had the chance to be a bold leader in the climate fight, but legislators wasted their opportunity. As a result, ongoing and new anti-fossil fuel fights which the act could have supported, will only get harder as more projects are proposed like the Virginia Natural Gas Header Improvement Project, C4GT and Chickahominy gas plants. 

Virginia’s lawmakers can’t rest on their puny laurels. There is still a ways to go and until legislation as bold as the Green New Deal Act is passed, the General Assembly is failing the state. In the meantime, Food & Water Action and our members will continue to fight like we live here!

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