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Blog Posts: Fracking

September 29th, 2014

What Will it Take for the EPA to Act on Fracking?

By Emily Wurth

CraigStevensDimockWater-FBSQIt is well known that drilling and fracking contaminate water and it’s happening all across the United States. Yet President Obama and his administration, including the Environmental Protection Agency, are not only letting this happen unchecked, they’re actively promoting and expanding fracking. That’s why we’ve long been blowing the whistle and demanding answers.

Last Thursday, a Resources for the Future Policy Leadership Forum featured a conversation with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Craig Stevens, whose water is contaminated from a gas pipeline, and I attended the forum hoping that we could ask Administrator McCarthy a single question: why won’t she meet with the families affected by water contamination from drilling and fracking for oil and gas?

Read the full article…

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September 26th, 2014

Fighting for a Frack-Free Europe

By Katherine Cirullo

BlogThumb_GFD_Geert_globalfrackdown_global_frackdown

Geert deCock, Food & Water Europe Policy Officer, is joining this year’s Global Frackdown to fight for a ban on fracking.

With just two weeks until the Global Frackdown, we called up our colleague Geert deCock in Brussels to get the low-down on Europe’s fight against fracking — the progress that’s been made and the work that still needs to be done. Prepare to be inspired.

Geert, to start us off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Why did you become involved in the fight against fracking?

My name is Geert deCock. I’m Belgian, and I work for Food & Water Watch in Brussels for the European program. My main focus is to campaign for a ban on fracking in Europe and to generally support the groups that oppose fracking in Europe, providing knowledge about fracking, its many harmful impacts and that ways in which we can organize to stop it.

I became involved in the fight against fracking when living in Alberta, Canada (Edmonton), quite close to the tar sands, where I was exposed to a lot of the rhetoric around oil and gas extraction and its “supposed” benefits. That’s when I became politicized about energy and climate and fossil fuels. I saw that there was such a huge gap between what the government was saying about “minimal” risks of tar sands extraction and the real experiences of nations and communities — the very real health impacts tar sands extraction has on people living in those areas and the environment. There’s such a close parallel to fracking where, again, the industry claims the benefits are huge and the risks are minimal, when really, if you talk to the people on the ground, it’s the other way around.

Food & Water Watch is calling for a ban on fracking and an aggressive transition towards renewable energy, all across the globe. Why is it important that communities around the world become involved in this fight, not just those in the U.S.?

Right now in Europe, we don’t have particularly large-scale fracking operations yet. So, it’s important to ban fracking now, before it is too late — before fracking begins and contaminates local water supplies, pollutes the air, industrializes once agrarian communities and really exacerbates global climate change. Read the full article…

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September 22nd, 2014

Keep the Pressure On: A Message From Bill McKibben

Join us at the Global Frackdown on October 11.

      FIND AN EVENT

Do you need proof that the movement for climate justice is growing? How about this: over 400,000 people attended yesterday’s People’s Climate March in New York City and thousands more attended affiliated actions across the world. The press is already calling it the largest climate march in history. It’s exciting to see so many people engaged and active around climate change, and it’s hopeful to see thousands of people calling upon our leaders to make more responsible decisions regarding our energy future.

We need to build on that tremendous energy and make strong demands of our elected representatives at the local, state, and national level. The October 11 Global Frackdown offers just that opportunity.

Last year, there were hundreds of actions across the world calling for a ban on fracking, and this year there are already over 200 partner organizations in the Global Frackdown. One of those partner organizations is 350.org, and environmental leader Bill McKibben—whose voice and leadership have been so critical to sounding the call for strong action on climate change and the People’s Climate March—filmed a short video encouraging people to build on the climate march and take action on October 11.

Watch the video, share it with your friends, and sign up to attend or hold an action on October 11.

Join the Global Frackdown.

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September 21st, 2014

Don’t Frack Montana’s National Treasure

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

By Eleanor Guerin

I first worked in Glacier National Park during the summer of 1985, while still in college and studying biology. I knew I wanted to work in the wild. Coming from the flat land of Louisiana, I had only traveled east of the Mississippi and the only mountains I knew were the Ouchitas and the Appalachians. So Montana was at first overwhelming. I had never seen mountains loom so large; they felt oppressive. But I soon grew to love the park and the West in general – so much so that after one more stint working in environmental education in New Hampshire, I never went East again. I returned to Glacier as a ranger and naturalist the next year.

Visitors from all over the world come to Glacier. As a National Park Service park ranger/naturalist, I was fortunate to meet and talk with countless people from across Europe and Asia, the Middle East, Australia — really every continent. Many Europeans visit Glacier to see what is known as the “American Alps.” Folks come either for a quick drive on the not-to-be-missed road through the park or to spend days hiking the backcountry. And Glacier truly is a backcountry park. Roads take one only so far; while there is much to behold along the hairpin turns and thousand-foot drops of the main road, it’s the trails that lead to unimagined wildness. In the backcountry of this park, I sensed both my smallness in, and oneness with, the land. I yielded to the wind, sun and snow, to lightning and thunderstorms. I felt redeemed by the waters and life and purity of it all.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them "23 feet, 2 inches away from a 'griz' near Old Man Lake," according to a note on the back of the photo.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them “23 feet, 2 inches away from a ‘griz’ near Old Man Lake,” according to a note on the back of the photo.

Two intertwined features of Glacier will always stay with me: wildlife and water. And they both are threatened by what’s happening near the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the state of Montana: fracking. I have tracked fracking issues around the country from Pennsylvania to my home state of Louisiana, to the west in Wyoming, Montana and in California where I’ve made my home for 27 years. For some living in poverty, as on the Blackfeet Reservation bordering the eastern edge of Glacier, allowing drilling and fracking may provide temporary economic relief. But it has the terrible potential to be a double-edged sword. Some argue there’s no harm. Others fight with all their heart to protect the land. With secret chemical concoctions injected deep into the earth, I gladly err on the side of protection.

Montana may not be a highly populated state, but it contains an unrivaled natural treasure worthy of government oversight and protection. BLM lands are federal lands, intended to benefit ALL the people. The potential for fracking to contaminate both ground and surface water that sustains the people of Montana through agriculture and drinking supplies, as well its wildlife, cannot be ignored. Once damaged, there’s no turning back.

I return to Montana and Glacier every couple of years. The park is an old friend; the land has held my heart ever since my first foray there. But I have watched the glaciers, for which the park is named, recede during a few short decades. I know species like the pika become more threatened by warming temperatures. And now, the very water that sustains both humans and animals could become the next casualty of economic development. We must be vigilant.

eleanorguerin.headshotEleanor Guerin is a guest blogger to Food & Water Watch. Since leaving Glacier in 1987, Eleanor has made her home in Sonoma County, California, where she makes her living as a massage therapist, health advocate and Certified Senior Advisor. She gathers data for the California Phenology Project at Pepperwood Preserve and volunteers in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.”

September 19th, 2014

Come One, Come All: Host an Event for the Global Frackdown!

By Katherine Cirullo

frackdownEach autumn for the last several years, thousands of people across continents have participated in the Global Frackdown, a worldwide day of action to challenge the oil and gas industry and to call for a worldwide ban on fracking. This year’s Global Frackdown is shaping up to be an impressive show of solidarity. On October 11, individuals and groups in communities around the world will gather to raise their voices and tell their elected officials that they want a future lit by clean, renewable energy, not dangerous, destructive fossil fuels.

So, do you want to have a hand in this monumental global effort to protect communities from the harmful effects that fracking imposes on air, water, health and public safety? Do you want to help decrease our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and instead steer our planet towards a renewable energy future and a safe climate? Do you want to see fracking banned in your town, and in others across the globe?

Simple. Host a Global Frackdown event! We’ll give you the tools; all you need is a bit of creativity and some fire in your gut.

Global Frackdown events should be educational, and should build your local movement against fracking. They should also be fun! The more people we have as part of our movement, the more power we will have to stand up against the oil and gas industry’s global pressure to increase gas development — so let’s get to it. Here’s how you can organize a successful Global Frackdown event in your community.

Planning:

  1. First, check the map to see if there’s already an event in your area. If not, sign up to host one and we’ll get in touch with a planning toolkit and everything you need to plan a great event.
  2. Don’t go at it alone. Recruit a friend to help.
  3. Once you plan your event, add it to the map so members of your community can join. You can also get people to join your event by posting an event listing in your local newspaper, on social media or by handing out flyers.
  4. Visit our website for materials and talking points.
  5. Target your local elected officials. Their job is to listen to constituents. If you need help on who to target, contact us! E-mail katy(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

The Event:

What does a Global Frackdown action entail? That’s ultimately up to you, but we have some ideas to get you started.

  1. Collect Petitions. Set up a table at a local farmers market or school event, host a potluck at home with your friends or host a film screening (see number 3). These are all fun, simple ways to collect signatures for a ban on fracking and converse with those around you about the issue. Petition signatures are a direct way of showing local officials that your community supports the movement to ban fracking. When you have finished collecting, send them to us and we will help you deliver them to your local decision makers.
  2. Make a Human Sign. Time to get creative and be visible! What do you want to tell your local officials? Choose a public space and either spell a message with actual people or have them hold up individual letters. This is a great way to get kids involved with some poster board and markers. Decide ahead of time when and where everyone should meet. And, don’t forget to take pictures!
  3. Host a film screening. Gasland and Gasland II are compelling films about fracking that will inform your community and spark discussion after the film. To request a copy, email katy(at)fwwatch(dot)org. You can host a private screening at your home or reserve a space and invite your community. College campuses or community and arts centers are great. Tell your elected officials about it, collect petition signatures and be sure to check back with us after.
  4. Host a rally. What better way to make your concerns heard than by shouting them? Gather your community and together tell your elected officials what you are fighting for by holding a rally in a public space outside his or her office. Are you fighting for clean water? Clean air? Safe food? Safe communities? Get your friends involved by asking them to create signs and come up with a few chants. Make sure to bring petitions, take photo and video and have fun! Download our toolkit for sample chants and other materials.
  5. Don’t forget to spread the word (and the photos) on the web. Visit our social media guide for how to connect with the Global Frackdown online. Or, send your photos to katy(at)fwwatch(dot)org and we will share them. Social media is a great way for you to keep us updated on your event and to also tune in with other events around the world. Most importantly, it is a way to make our voices heard.

In recent years, communities across the United States have passed hundreds of measures against fracking. Bulgaria and France have upheld bans. The Netherlands and Czech Republic have passed moratoria. South Africa and Ireland have delayed fracking. Communities in other countries have mobilized to pass local legislation. We’re just getting started. The third Global Frackdown is just three weeks away. Join us!

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September 16th, 2014

Keep Calm and Ban Fracking: Shale Gas in the UK

By Geert Decock

A view of the South Downs in from Devil's Dyke in southern England. CC by SA©IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org

A view of the South Downs in from Devil’s Dyke in southern England. CC by SA(c) IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org.

OK, I admit: I had never before heard about the South Downs National Park in England. However, last week, I learned that the planning committee of the park had voted unanimously to turn down an application by shale gas explorer, Celtique Energie, to start drilling and maybe fracking at Fernhurst, a two hour drive south of London.

A couple of hours later, I can call myself a South Downs fan. Yes, I want to go on holiday there. Except maybe for blue sky and warm temperatures, the South Downs has lots to offer. Wikipedia informs me that the South Downs has “a rich heritage of historical features and archaeological remains, including defensive sites, burial mounds and field boundaries”. Within the park, there are 37 “Sites of Special Scientific Interest”, protecting the very little that remains of the old chalk grassland. Needless to say, South Downs is a “popular recreational destination, particularly for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers”.

And by drilling and fracking in such an area of outstanding beauty, UK shale gas explorers hope to win the hearts and minds of locals and public opinion more generally? How out of touch can you be?

A recent report of the federal environment agency of Germany (covered in our previous blog post) details what is required to extract shale gas from an area of 260 square kilometers (about 16 by 16 kilometers) over a period of 10 years.

  • 144 well pads (one per every 2 square kilometers!)
  • 864-1440 wells (assuming 6-10 horizontal drills /pad)
  • 12.000-48.000 truck movements per well

Despite these facts, the CEO of Celtique has the temerity to state that his application “has been refused on subjective and unjustified grounds”. What is more likely to be the case, is that the planning committee analysed the existing pressures on their national park from agriculture, traffic and housing development and drew the common sense conclusion that adding fracking to the mix simply was not going to work.

Despite all this, the UK government’s energy strategy continues to be “going all out for shale”, stressed Prime Minister Cameron. The efforts of shale enthusiasts like David Cameron (but also other mainstream political parties) will continue to fight a losing battle, as people get better informed about shale gas and fracking.

In the latest licencing round, almost 60 percent of the UK territory was offered to shale gas explorers to start drilling for shale gas. It should not come as a surprise that new groups are popping up like mushrooms in areas singled out for shale gas drilling. Some of the most vocal groups are Residents Action on Fylde Fracking in the Blackpool area or the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, where exploratory drilling was halted last summer due to protests. They are not only determined to stop this terrible development, but they are well organized. Just take a look at all the resources available on the website of a grassroots campaign like Frack Off. This summer, the No Dash for Gas campaign hosted a “Reclaim the power” anti-fracking action camp. And they have the support from larger groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

The combination of a vibrant and growing anti-fracking movement with the non-stop PR disasters committed by shale gas explorers and the UK government will mean that their shale gas strategy will slowly but surely grind to a halt.

With more than half of the UK territory now licensed for shale gas and oil exploration, anti-fracking groups in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will be at the forefront of the campaign to ban fracking. On October 11, the Global Frackdown – an international day of action against fracking – will offer a great opportunity to express our solidarity with those communities in the UK under siege from the shale gas industry and its political supporters.

Join us on October 11 for the Global Frackdown: http://www.globalfrackdown.org/.

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To Save the Climate, We Need a Ban on Fracking

By Wenonah Hauter

Fracking is an issue that touches on every aspect of our lives — the water we drink, the air we breathe, the health of our communities — and it is also impacting the global climate on which we all depend.

With the upcoming People’s Climate March and United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, it is more important than ever that the climate effects of fracking are addressed. This is why today, Food & Water Watch released The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking. With mounting evidence about the dangerous impacts of fracking and the immediacy of the impending climate crisis, this report lays out the urgent case for a ban.

Fracking affects not only the millions living within a mile of fracking sites who experience health problems, polluted water, earthquakes, explosions and declined property values, but it also affects billions globally who are affected by climate change.

As the fracking boom began in 2009, we became alarmed about the threats fracking posed to our water resources – from tap water that could be lit on fire thanks to methane leaks from fracking wells into water sources, to spills of chemicals and fracking waste that pollute waterways. While many environmental groups were hopeful about natural gas’s ability to offset carbon emissions and act as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future, we were skeptical about the trade-offs for the rest of the environment.

Over the next few years, scientific evidence mounted, showing not only that fracking won’t help moderate climate change, but that it has the potential to unleash massive amounts of methane that will worsen the climate disaster. After looking at the growing evidence of the inherent problems with fracking, and realizing how inadequately the states were regulating the oil and gas industry and enforcing those regulations, Food & Water Watch became the first national organization to call for a complete ban on fracking in 2011.

Since 2011, more than 150 additional studies have been conducted on a range of issues (from water pollution to climate change, air pollution to earthquakes) reinforcing the case that fracking is simply too unsafe to pursue. Neither federal nor state officials can effectively prevent the multitude of damages through regulation.

Fracking Methane Climate EffectsMounting evidence shows that fracking is inherently unsafe, contaminating water, polluting air, and threatening public health. Fracking damages local infrastructure, decreases property values and causes a range of social problems. And most critically for the survival of people and ecosystems, fracking exacerbates and accelerates climate change. We are facing a climate crisis that is already having devastating impacts and that is projected to escalate to catastrophic levels if we do not act now.

President Barack Obama came into office touting fracked gas as a “bridge fuel,” yet mounting evidence suggests that rather than serving as a bridge to a renewable energy future, it’s a bridge to a climate crisis.

Despite what the oil and gas industry claim, there have now been over 150 studies on fracking and its impacts that raise concerns about the risks and dangers of fracking and highlight how little we know about its long-term effects on health and our limited freshwater supplies. It’s time for President Obama and other decision makers to look at the facts. It’s a matter of our survival.

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August 28th, 2014

How the Fracking Industry Undermines Labor

By Sydney Baldwin, Ryanne Waters and Katherine Cirullo

Is there a salary worth risking your health or even your life? Big Oil and Gas might think so, but the ex-industry workers with whom we spoke aren’t so convinced.

Today, Food & Water Watch released Toxic Workplace: Fracking Hazards on the Job, a research brief that exposes the dangers of working in the fracking industry. Subject to long hours on the job, sloppy safety regulations and reporting, lack of injury compensation and close contact with hazardous chemicals, former industry laborers agree that the fracking workplace is a toxic one. As we reflect on the social and economic successes of the labor movement over this holiday weekend, it becomes more evident that the fracking industry may have missed the memo.

The practice of hydraulic fracturing involves drilling down to a targeted rock formation and injecting large volumes of water, sand and toxic chemicals at extreme pressure to create fractures in the rock and release tightly held oil and gas. The chemicals used in the fracking process can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems and upset the endocrine system.

At the site, workers can be exposed to volatile organic compounds, including benzene and toluene, as well as fugitive methane, which are often released during fracking and can mix with nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel-fueled vehicles and stationary equipment to form ground-level ozone. Workers can also be exposed to silica sand, which is often used in the fracking process, and is a known human carcinogen. Long term exposure to silica, a component that makes up as much as 99 percent of frac sand, increases the likelihood of developing silicosis, which damages lung tissue and inhibits lungs function. Breathing it can make a person more susceptible to tuberculosis and is also associated with autoimmune disorders and kidney disease.

Randy Moyer, who used to work for the fracking industry as a subcontractor and dealt with shale gas wastewater, told us how he experienced first-hand the horrible effects of dealing with fracking chemicals and radioactive wastewater. He claims that the consequences of spending countless hours on the site included painful rashes, itching, sores and swelling of organs. “When I first got the rash, it was so bad; it’s like being on fire, and nobody can put you out,” Randy said.

To make matters worse, those on the frontlines risking their health and safety each day for the fracking industry are rarely compensated for any health problems they experience. Randy explained that he is going on 35 months without compensation or medical coverage for over twenty emergency room visits and a myriad of doctors’ appointments. “They basically put me out on my own,” he said.

In addition to exposure to harsh chemicals and radiation, workers also have to combat the every day dangers of working on the site, such as precarious equipment and long hours of strenuous work. As a result, the oil and gas industry’s fatality rate is 6.5 times the national average. From 2003-2012, 26 in 100,000 people died while working in the oil and gas industry; the national average for all U.S. jobs is four fatalities in 100,000.

fracking worker safety chart

“As they exploit their own workers, the oil and gas industry is always quick to tout the so-called ‘economic benefits’ of fracking,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “But what good are jobs that injure workers and rob them of their health? We cannot stand by and allow the industry to profit from the exploitation of its labor force. The experiences of these workers illustrates that fracking is a toxic process through and through.”

With such high risks associated with working in the industry, those contracted to work in this dangerous field should be given extensive safety training and be fully educated in the types of conditions and chemicals they work with. However, Randy explained that workers were prohibited from raising these concerns about unknown chemicals and exposure on the job. “You aren’t allowed to even talk about it; if you talk about it, you’re gone.” He went on to explain the mentality of the industry, “If you don’t know, your company doesn’t know, your workers will never know, because you’re not allowed to discuss any of this on pads or they will fire you.”

To make matters worse, many oil and gas companies offer incentives to encourage laborers not to report safety accidents or file workers’ compensation claims in order to make themselves look good, but this distorts safety statistics.

Frequent accidents are swept under the rug by well site supervisors and company executives to protect profits. Thirty-year veteran of the fracking industry and former master driller, Lee McCaslin explained that previously injured or killed workers had written the job safety training in blood. “I walked around with a broken toe, a broken rib, you now, to get to the safety pad at the end of the hall to get that extra $57 we got for our safety award. I don’t know if it was worth the suffering,” Lee said. “Even our bosses knew that we were injured, but as long as we had no reporting of an accident, the whole crew was viable for those bonuses,” he said.

Allowing overly exhausted workers to operate and maintain heavy drilling machinery in such dangerous conditions without any consideration for safety is common practice in the fracking industry. Many accidents occurring in the fracking industry stem from the irregular and long work hours. Lee McCaslin recalled working fourteen-hour days. “The hours are just enough to put you into a state of being where you walk around like a zombie half of the time.”

This is clearly an industry that places no value in the safety, or even lives, of their workers. “You’re expendable to the industry. There is always someone else to come fill that seat,” Randy quipped.

When asked what he would say to someone trying to work in the fracking industry, Randy stated, “This will ruin your health. It takes a very small amount of this to do it. If you value your health, you won’t even get close to it.” As Lee reflects on his time as an industry laborer, he claims “I’m grateful for my life today.” No one should fear for his or her life at work, but unfortunately, this is the reality that oil and gas industry workers face on a daily basis.

Update, August 29: Preliminary field studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find that workers in the oil and gas industry can be exposed to higher than recommended levels of benzene.

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August 22nd, 2014

Calling on Congress to Protect Public Lands from Becoming Private Profit

By Wenonah Hauter #saveourparks from fracking

When you imagine your family vacation, do drilling rigs or the roar of wastewater tankers rumbling down a forest service road immediately come to mind? Unfortunately, with the Obama administration’s proposed rules for drilling and fracking on federal lands, our treasured national lands may begin to resemble this grim image. Read the full article…

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August 7th, 2014

Frackopoly: Documenting the Movement to Fight Fracking

Wenonah Hauter, Mark Ruffalo and activists rally to ban fracking.

Wenonah Hauter, Mark Ruffalo and activists rally to ban fracking.

By Wenonah Hauter

Writing a book is both a daunting and energizing experience. My first book Foodopoly took months of research (helped by many here at Food & Water Watch) and sheer discipline. But the payoff was great: I was able to tour the country and meet people who are concerned about the state of our food and the state of our politics, and I felt palpably that the work of Food & Water Watch is necessary and making a difference by building a movement of concerned citizen activists to become politicized to protect our essential resources from corporate control.

What Is Fracking?
  • Inherently unsafe, fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing. It’s a water-intensive process where millions of gallons of fluid are injected underground at high pressure to fracture the rock surrounding an oil or gas well. This releases extra oil and gas from the rock, so it can flow into the well.
  • Sign the petition to ban fracking.

Now, I’m back in the trenches of research and writing with my follow-up book. A true tale of corruption and greed, Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment looks at how a powerful citizen-led movement is making progress fighting one of the biggest and most powerful industries in the world on one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time: fracking. In preparation for the book, I am interviewing people in affected communities across the country who have had their well water contaminated with methane; their health impacted; their air polluted; and the value of their homes destroyed.

As I’m starting to wrap up the book, I’m feeling excited about what lies ahead, and what the book represents. It’s a story of what’s possible and ultimately, what will save our democracy: engaged citizens, impacted by an issue in their backyards, in a fight for their lives and making a difference.

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