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Blog Posts: Fracking

January 15th, 2015

Citizens United 101

By Briana Kerensky and Mitch Jones

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Take action: Tell your members of Congress to overturn Citizens United!

Next week marks the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. Since 2010, corporations have been legally able to use their deep pockets to influence politics, to a destructive degree. According to the Supreme Court, corporations have the same First Amendment right to free speech as people, and as such are allowed to give as much money to political campaigns as they want. But whereas the average Joe or Jane might donate up to a few hundred dollars, corporations have the ability and resources to put millions of dollars into a campaign and change the course of an election.

What does this terrifying concept mean for our work to protect the food you eat and the water you drink? Read on for Citizens United 101, where we break down the landmark case, how it’s changed the electoral process and what it means for the safety of your food and water.

What is Citizens United?

In a nutshell, Citizens United is a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allows for unlimited campaign contributions in the U.S. electoral system. Corporate donations to elections are now supposed to be protected as free speech. There are three big takeaways from the ruling:

  1. Citizens United established that free speech rights are solely about speech, and not the speaker.
  2. Citizens United didn’t create corporate personhood (the idea that businesses have the same rights and protections as humans), but it claims that corporate personhood extends to the First Amendment.
  3. Since political speech is a fundamental First Amendment right, any constraint on it has to be limited. For a long time the U.S. didn’t allow corporations to spend money on political campaigns, in order to avoid political corruption. What Citizens United ruled, though, is that avoiding corruption puts a damper on free speech rights.

What does Citizens United mean for corporate control?

Citizens United opens up the ability of corporations to spend money on political campaigns. So in terms of control of our political system, it allows corporations the ability to take much more overt control of funding of campaigns and pushing through their agenda. It helps corporations make sure that legislative bodies, whether at the federal level or state level, governorships, attorney generals, and even in some instances judges, are aligned with their interests.

What does Citizens United have to do with Food & Water Watch’s work?

Citizens United allows corporations to have yet another avenue for gaming the political system. Corporations have more money to spend than the average citizen or most non-profits, making it more difficult for organizations like Food & Water Watch (which doesn’t accept donations from corporations or the government) and our allies to advocate for legislation that protects our food, that stops damaging trade deals and that bans fracking. Citizens United allows corporations to use their political influence to essentially buy themselves a government that is willing to implement their agenda.

What’s the relationship between Citizens United and the DARK Act, which would allow corporations like Monsanto to keep GMO ingredients off food labels?

The free spending on political campaigns that Citizens United allows certainly makes bills like the DARK Act harder for Food & Water Watch and our allies to defeat. “Thanks” to the 2010 ruling, there is now a large amount of money (think billions) being spent in support of political candidates who support the DARK Act, as well as other Big Ag, Big Oil and Gas, and free trade agendas. As long as Citizens United remains in place, it makes it more likely that pro-corporate candidates will get elected, then introduce and vote for legislation like the DARK Act.

What is Food & Water Watch doing about Citizens United?

Food & Water Watch is working with a group of partner organizations from the environmental community, the faith community and organized labor to push for a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the amount of money in federal and state elections – reversing some of the problems with Citizens United.

What can I do to help?

In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court gave corporations massive power over our democracy, treating them just like people… except that, in the case of corporations, protecting their supposed “freedom of speech” means allowing them to make unlimited political donations and effectively buy campaigns.

That’s no way for democracy to function. Corporations shouldn’t control our food supply or our political process. Tell your members of Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to take back democracy for the people and overturn Citizens United!

January 13th, 2015

The Research Is In: Regulations Alone Won’t Save Us From Climate Disaster

By Wenonah Hauter

We are convinced that any serious attempt to address climate change means that a large portion of the natural gas, oil and coal currently locked underground must remain unexploited. Unfortunately, rather than aggressively deploying renewable energy resources, the Obama administration has opted to allow polluters to continue burning these dirty, polluting fossil fuels. Case in point: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is due to soon release rules to regulate methane leaks from natural gas production and transportation. But two new reports released this week underscore the importance of keeping fossil fuels where they belong—underground.

Read the full article…

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January 6th, 2015

Fracking Breaks the CO2 Budget

By Hugh MacMillan

The Obama administration is prepared to directly regulate methane leaks from the oil and natural gas industry, and may do so soon. But as we explained in a previous blog, directly regulating methane from the industry greenwashes the climate impacts of widespread and intensive drilling and fracking for natural gas. That’s because, just looking at carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, almost all of the natural gas has to stay underground, unburned, to stay within a CO2 budget that would avoid dangerous climate changes.

Read the full article…

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December 22nd, 2014

All Naughty, No Nice: 5 Worst Fracking Industry Moments of 2014

By Jo Miles

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A pinkwashed fracking drill bit. Fracking company Baker Hughes claims to be fighting breast cancer, when fracking actually increases people’s risk of cancer.

There’s never much chance of fracking companies ending up on Santa’s “nice” list, considering that polluting our air and water and making people sick is a regular part of how they do business. But while the movement to ban fracking made great strides in 2014, most notably with the recent ban in New York, the oil and gas industry seemed to go the extra mile this year to get onto the “naughty” list. Even here at Food & Water Watch, we were surprised by some of the dirty tactics some fracking companies used to attempt to sway public opinion and win over lawmakers.

Here are a few of the most unbelievable fracking industry stunts that made the news in 2014:

5. Sorry about that explosion. Here, have a pizza.

When a Chevron fracking well exploded in the small town of Bobtown, Pa. this February, you can imagine how upset the residents were.  The fire from the explosion burned for days, and they couldn’t be sure whether toxins were released into their air. One 27-year-old worker was killed. But Chevron made it up to them… with coupons for a free pizza.

One pizza. That’s Chevron’s idea of fair compensation for an explosion that put homes, families and workers in danger. And what happened in Bobtown isn’t an isolated incident – just this month, 25 families in Ohio were forced to evacuate their homes due to potentially explosive methane leaking from a nearby fracking well.

4. This is not what they meant by “job creation”

Grassroots organizations like Food & Water Watch often work with concerned locals to pack hearing rooms and show decision-makers that the community opposes fracking. In September, a pro-fracking industry group called North Carolina Energy Coalition tried to do the same… but failed. Instead of bringing community members who actually supported them, it bused in a group of homeless people who knew nothing about fracking. Several of the homeless men admitted that they were paid to attend, and didn’t know why until they arrived.

It wouldn’t surprise us if the industry couldn’t find people genuinely supportive of fracking to attend a hearing, but paying people to pretend they support fracking is a cheap trick.

3. Getting cozy with Dr. Evil

Food & Water Watch and our activists must really be making the fracking industry nervous, because this year the industry partnered with Richard “Dr. Evil” Berman to attack us and other anti-fracking organizations. Berman is notorious for using underhanded tactics to make advocacy organizations look bad, going so far as to dig up information on the titles of board members’ cars. What’s next, going through activists’ trash?

2. NIMBY-ist of the year

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon and hypocrite extraordinaire, got involved in a lawsuit against fracking in his neighborhood. That’s right, he’s trying to stop fracking near his home. He still insists that people should be fine with fracking happening in their backyards – he just doesn’t want it in his backyard.

1. Fighting breast cancer… you’re doing it wrong

The world is full of feel-good pink products that do little or nothing to fight breast cancer. Fracking company Baker Hughes claimed to do their part this year by partnering with Susan G. Komen to create the most egregious piece of pinkwashing ever: pink fracking drill bits. The part that makes this disgusting instead of laughable is that fracking fluid contains carcinogens. Fracking increases people’s risk of cancer, and using pink drill bits won’t magically change that.

 

There you have it: a few of the many reasons why the fracking industry indeed deserves a big lump of coal this year. Or should we say, ahem, a big glass of fracking fluid.

December 19th, 2014

Ohio and Maryland Should Take a Hint from New York’s Fracking Ban

By Francesca Buzzi

FB_1412_CuomoQuoteRallySI-C2At the moment when Governor Cuomo revealed his decision to exercise caution and ban fracking in New York, a fracked well in Ohio was spewing natural gas into the air for the third straight day from a leak that well crews could not stop. This is the reality facing our air, water, climate, and communities as long as fracking continues in states without a ban.

Governor Cuomo’s decision was backed by the science described at length in the Health Department’s extensive study of the risks fracking poses to public health. New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker summed up the study simply: he wouldn’t want his child to play outside in a community that allows fracking.

Oil and gas companies claim that accidents are few and far between, but leaks, spills, and explosions are not uncommon. And when they do happen, they are often severe.

Ohio, a small shale gas producer compared to states like Texas and Pennsylvania, has seen a distressing number of serious accidents related to fracked wells. Last month, a worker was killed in an explosion and fire at a fracking site. Two weeks before that, Ohio saw three fracking-related accidents in three days, during which a worker was burned, a pipeline fire torched acres of forest, and a well blowout forced 400 families to evacuate.

In June, a massive spill and fire forced 25 families to evacuate and killed over 70,000 fish along a 5-mile stretch of a tributary of the Ohio River. The fire took a week to extinguish, with at least 30 explosions occurring over that week, driving dangerous shrapnel though the air. The state lets companies drill up to 100 feet from homes, but explosions at drilling operations are capable of blowing pieces of metal much farther than that.

The month before that fire, drillers were unable to prevent the excessive buildup of pressure in a well, which led to a leak of around 1,600 gallons of oil-based drilling fluids into a tributary of the Ohio River.

These accidents are unacceptable, yet they are only the most visible instances of pollution. We can’t see the long-term impacts of widespread drilling and fracking—damage to groundwater, the atmosphere, and the public health effects of long-term exposure to chemicals—but they stand to be a much more significant threat.

As Governor O’Malley prepares to open Maryland to fracking, we urge him to take a look at Ohio’s cautionary tale and New York’s safety victory and to seriously ask himself if he would let his kids live and play in a community that allows fracking, given the science. Governor O’Malley should join Governor Cuomo, and stand up for the long-term health of Maryland’s communities and watersheds.

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December 18th, 2014

We Can Ban Fracking, New York Paves the Way

By Wenonah Hauter

CuomoBanFantastic news came from the state of New York this week when the Cuomo administration announced its decision to ban fracking in the state. This exciting decision is a tribute to everyone who has worked so hard in New York to protect the state from the ravages experienced elsewhere from fracking.

Here’s the full story: On Wednesday, the Governor convened a cabinet meeting where Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker presented the findings of the Department of Health’s review on fracking. He described the peer- reviewed studies showing that fracking contaminates air and water and harms health, and he highlighted that many of the long-term health effects are still unknown, as epidemiological studies have not been conducted. Comissioner Zucker ended his presentation by saying, “Would I live in a community that would allow fracking? The answer is no.”

Then in this real-time drama, Joe Martens, the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation indicated the department would issue “legally binding findings to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.” They will be included in the supplemental generic environmental impact study that will be released in the New Year, an approach that Governor Cuomo supports, and that will effectively ban fracking in New York.

This is particularly exciting because just three years ago, conventional wisdom in New York’s mainstream environmental community held that fracking was inevitable in New York and that strong regulation was the best we could hope for. But Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Water Defense, United for Action, Citizen Action of New York and several other organizations joined together to launch New Yorkers Against Fracking (NYAF) – with the audacious goal of winning a complete ban in the state of New York. For the next three years, thousands of people engaged in activities around the state, from massive demonstrations, to sending in comments to the Department of Environmental Conservation on the health risks of fracking. NYAF grew to over 250 national, state, and local groups.

For the last two years, it has been impossible for Governor Cuomo to go anywhere in the state without fractivists by the dozens, hundreds, or thousands rallying outside his appearances, delivering the clear message: ban fracking now. At his polling place this November, Cuomo recognized the movement as the most powerful protest movement in the state.

I’m proud that Food & Water Watch was the first national organization to stand with the grassroots organizations and to call for a ban on fracking. This hard won victory shows that we can win when we build political power. It also shows that we can win when we organize around a clear message and an unambiguous goal. It should inspire reflection among those mainstream environmental groups reluctant to take a strong stand against fracking or those who attempt to split the difference by supporting both a moratorium and stronger regulations at the same time. We need to be clear and uncompromising in calling for a ban on fracking and other extreme extraction practices.

Governor Cuomo heeded this call, and has positioned himself as a national leader in the movement to shift to an energy policy that is safe and based on efficiency and 100 percent renewable energy. New York is a bellwether state for fracking nationally, and is the first shale state to take such bold action against fracking. This decision has implications for other states considering fracking like Maryland, Pennsylvania, California and others.

In contrast to Cuomo’s decision today, Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley recently released regulations for fracking in his state. The Obama Administration’s EPA has refused to reopen investigations on instances of water contamination from fracking. Governor Hickenlooper in Colorado continues to oppose even communities’ ability to prevent fracking, Governor Brown in California continues to burry his head in the sand when it comes to the real health and environmental impacts of fracking, and Governor-Elect Wolf in Pennsylvania is floating a severance tax as a way for the state to make money off fracking, rather than taking on this dangerous practice.

Politicians with national influence or larger political aspirations should take note that support for fracking nationally has fallen, especially among Democrats and Independents, over the past few years. A PEW poll issued this November found that a 47 percent plurality of Americans, 59 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Independents nationally oppose increased fracking. This ban in New York comes exactly one week after Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced a bill to ban fracking on public lands, the strongest federal bill on fracking to date.

The decision in New York will have a ripple effect across the country and act to strengthen efforts against fracking nationwide. The story of how tens of thousands of fractivists fought and won in New York with their blood, sweat and tears is awe-inspiring and demonstrates that we should fight for what we want – not just the best that can be negotiated in a backroom deal or what others say is politically feasible. Instead we should work to change the political reality in order to win real improvements in people’s lives and protect our fragile planet for future generations.

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December 17th, 2014

Food & Water Watch’s Holiday Gift Guide

BlogThumb_GiftBy Briana Kerensky

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to start worrying about what to get your friends and family for the holidays. Are you searching for the best gifts to get your loved ones that won’t make you feel like you’re giving in to corporate holiday marketing schemes?

This year, we’ve got you covered. Steer clear of the shopping mall and check out these seven meaningful gift ideas for the holidays.

  1. Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in Americaby Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water WatchRead all about how our food system came to be controlled by a handful of companies—and what you can do to fix it.
  2. Homemade candy or baked goods. Fight the Foodopoly and make your friends and family some sweet treats this season, like peppermint bark or gingerbread cookies.
  3. Food & Water Watch gift membership. Give the gift of safe food and clean water for all… with gift memberships to Food & Water Watch.
  4. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein. In this excellent new book, No Logo and The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein skillfully explains how the climate crisis and gaping inequalities in our global economy are tied together, and what we can do to make a difference.
  5. Cookbooks. A number of chefs and professional foodies are great allies in supporting safe food and clean water. Why not show them your support and purchase some of their cookbooks for your loved ones this year? For example, Chef Alice Waters is not only a culinary legend, but is also extremely active in the fight to ban fracking as a member of Chefs for the Marcellus.
  6. Gift certificate to a local restaurant. Everyone loves being treated to a nice meal, so why not treat your friend and support your local economy at the same time? For sustainably minded restaurant ideas, visit the Eat Well Guide.
  7. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed. Following the death of her mother, divorce, and a descent into drugs, author Cheryl Strayed decided to take control of her life by hiking solo across a 1,100 mile portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. While Strayed’s journey is the focus of the story (and a new film featuring Reese Witherspoon), the beauty of the Pacific Northwest is certainly more than a bit part. Spanning 25 national forests and seven national parks, the Pacific Crest Trail is one of our most treasured places – and it’s at risk of getting fracked. Learn more about the danger of fracking on public lands and what you can do to stop it.

Do you have other meaningful gift ideas? Tell us in the comments below.

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December 16th, 2014

Don’t Let Fracking Destroy Her Legacy

By Alex Nagy

Dianne Thomas

Dianne Thomas, anti-fracking activist.

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Dianne is one of the amazing people I get to work with as the Southern California Organizer for Food & Water Watch. Dianne and her late husband worked hard to build a home in Carson, California to leave behind for their children, but the oil and gas industry could destroy their legacy.

When Dianne found out that Occidental Petroleum (“Oxy”) was planning to drill 200 new wells over the next 10 years, she asked if there would be fracking: they answered yes. The night before, she had caught a special on TV about extreme oil extraction — she saw homes cracking and falling apart because of fracking.

That’s when Dianne and her neighbors reached out to Food & Water Watch. They had heard about the work we were doing with communities to ban fracking.

Dianne and I started to meet weekly to strategize about the campaign — how to get Carson’s story in the news and how to build more public support. It was clear that Dianne was passionate, and as a skilled community activist she would give Oxy a fight. I helped by providing the information and resources to fight this fracking proposal, including reports from our research team and insight from other organizers working to stop fracking in towns across the country.

With your support, we can continue to partner with local activists like Dianne and provide the resources to ban fracking!

While the City Council was considering Oxy’s proposal, we convinced them to put a 45-day hold on all new drilling in Carson. During that time, the community rallied support to convince the Council to put a permanent ban on new drilling. At several City Council meetings, there were so many people that supported the ban, we couldn’t all fit in the room!

Oxy used a lot of dirty tricks to overturn the temporary ban and get approval to start drilling. They even bribed people by offering gift cards to generate support for fracking at City Council meetings. They also pulled some powerful political strings, with a local paper reporting that Governor Jerry Brown called Carson’s mayor to urge him to kill the fracking ban. Clearly the community was doing something right if Big Oil and Gas were trying so hard to shut them down.

When it came down to it, we knew the vote was close. The movement against fracking in Carson was strong, but Oxy’s connections were powerful and they had spent a lot of money to fight the ban. Unfortunately, Oxy’s money and lobbying won out, and the Council voted against the ban on drilling.

But our fight is far from over — we are continuing to work together to keep fracking out of Carson, and out of other communities in California and across the country. We know we can’t let up, that we have to work even harder because if we don’t stop it, new oil drilling could start in Carson in 2015. Will you stand with us to ban fracking in communities across the country by making a generous gift?

Dianne is in this fight because Carson is her home, it’s where she bought a house and has worked hard to create a legacy for her children and grandchildren. I’m committed to this work because, like Dianne, I can’t just sit by as some corporation comes into a community and destroys the land, water and health of real people. This is all of our fight, because no one should be at risk of the dangers of fracking.

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December 1st, 2014

A Decision No Family Should Have To Make

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Every family deserves to be protected from fracking.

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By Ann, Food & Water Watch Supporter

Oil and gas companies are poisoning more and more communities in their mad rush to “drill, baby, drill.” After watching my family in Texas face this reality, I know for certain that I don’t want to see fracking expanded in backyards, schoolyards or in our national forests.

That’s why I am offering to triple your gift to Food & Water Watch to protect more families from fracking.

My nephew’s son was constantly getting sick – from chest colds to ear infections – and doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause. My nephew began to wonder if the rumors of oil and gas pollution in their town were true. What would you do?

Because of his son’s health, he made the excruciatingly difficult decision to uproot his family from their small town and move across the state line to a frack-free part of New Mexico. My family was able to get away, but the fact of the matter is that not all families have the means to leave, and no family should have to make that decision.

Since moving away, the illnesses that plagued my nephew’s son have disappeared and he’s a happy, healthy second grader. My nephew hasn’t been able to find work in New Mexico, so he still operates his business in Texas during the week and drives four hours each way to be with his family in New Mexico on the weekends.

I can’t prove that the oil and gas industry was to blame, but I know my nephew’s son got healthy when he left the town and I’ve heard too many similar stories to discount them. As long as the oil and gas industry is allowed to expand fracking and make its own rules, more families will wonder if their water is safe to drink, if the air at the playground is safe to breathe and if they need to make a tough decision to sell their house at a lower price just to get out.

We know that fracking companies consistently cut corners to put profits before people, so it’s up to us to stop them. And I believe that Food & Water Watch’s approach is truly one of the best. That’s why I’ve decided to put my full-fledged support behind them. Donate today and I’ll triple the impact of your gift.

Food & Water Watch gives people the information they need to see through the smoke screens that big oil and gas companies put up, they have staff across the country in 16 states helping communities stop fracking locally, they advocate on behalf of people who don’t want to see fracking expanded and they hold our elected officials accountable for their actions — from small towns all the way to the White House.

Food & Water Watch has helped win victories against fracking that nobody thought were possible, like keeping fracking out of New York, passing more than 400 measures to protect communities from fracking, stopping Congress from fast tracking approval of a slew of new facilities to export fracked gas abroad and working to introduce a bill to ban fracking on public lands and in national forests.

I hope my offer will inspire you to give to help more communities fight fracking before it affects more families like mine. No family should have to wonder if fracking is making their child sick.

If you donate before December 31, I will match your gift to triple the impact you can have to protect more families from fracking. That means if you donate $50, I will make that gift $150!

I hope you will join with me today.

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November 26th, 2014

What Happens When You Greenwash Fracking

By Hugh MacMillan

Last week, the Obama administration heard from large environmental groups about the need to directly regulate emissions of methane –– a potent greenhouse gas and the primary component of natural gas. The Obama administration has not been listening, as evidenced two days later when it dropped its Fall 2014 Statements of Regulatory Priorities for this fiscal year. The administration’s shortcoming does not surprise us, but from our perspective, the prospect of methane regulations makes for a Trojan horse.

Read the full article…

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