Photo by Hannah Benet
by Mark Schlosberg
In mid-October the climate justice movement scored major victories in California and New York. California Governor Gavin Newsom released a draft rule banning new drilling within 3200 feet of homes, schools, and other sensitive sites. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul rejected two new fracked gas power plants. These victories are huge and did not happen spontaneously. They only happened because of years of organizing and they mark a continuing shift in the political dynamics of fossil fuels.
A decade ago, these wins would have seemed impossible. Fracking in New York appeared inevitable. Then-Governor Cuomo had convened a task force that included some leading environmental groups to discuss how to regulate it. In California, then-Governor Jerry Brown was a friend to the oil and gas industry. He famously went on national television in 2015 to defend fracking and increasing oil production in California.
Fossil Fuel Interests In New York Were Strong, But People Power Is Stronger
In spite of powerful adversaries, communities organized. Food & Water Watch joined with other grassroots organizations to launch New Yorkers Against Fracking. This coalition to ban fracking grew into a broad-based, diverse, and powerful force. Actions across the state targeting Cuomo were non-stop. Following his underwhelming 2014 re-election, Cuomo had enough and announced a ban on fracking.
But the movement was not done. Various coalitions and grassroots organizations continued to fight pipelines, export facilities, and power plants, toppling one after another. The result has been a shift in the political dynamics of the state — fossil fuel projects are no longer politically tenable. Governor Hochul cited New York’s climate law when she rejected the Danskammer and Astoria fracked gas power plants. She also promised more action to come.
Our Movement’s Work In California Paved The Way To Newsom’s Fracking Setbacks Announcement
Unlike New York, California is a major oil-producing state. For many years it was among the top four oil-producing states in the country. The oil industry is entrenched there and politically powerful. Former Governor Jerry Brown was adamant about protecting the state’s oil industry. He even fired the head of the state’s oversight agency in order to expedite oil permitting.
But in parallel with New York, communities organized and the dynamic has started to change. Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Center on Race, Poverty & The Environment along with others launched Californians Against Fracking. Through the coalition, we directly challenged Governor Brown across the state and also organized several winning local campaigns. The anti-fracking movement passed fracking bans in Monterey, San Benito, Butte, Mendocino, Alameda, and Santa Cruz counties.
In 2018 groups working on these issues expanded and refocused into the Last Chance Alliance. LCA demanded Governor Newsom stop all new oil drilling, institute setbacks, and rapidly phase out all oil production. Environmental Justice groups formed a coalition that year as well, VISION, to provide essential leadership in pushing statewide setbacks.
The Most Recent Urgent Pressures That Pushed Newsom To Act
More wins followed. Food & Water Watch partnered with local allies to block hundreds of proposed new oil wells in Santa Barbara and Ventura County. We supported successful community efforts to stop all new oil drilling in Los Angeles County — the city must still act to do the same.
Governor Newsom faced increasing pressure from our movement to go beyond symbolism and take real action to stop fossil fuel expansion. He started to deny fracking and drilling permits and announced he would ban fracking by 2024 and phase out oil production by 2045 — falling far short of what is needed. As California’s drought deepened and wildfires raged across the state, pressure continued to mount. Ultimately, Newsom released his plan to stop new drilling within 3200 feet of sensitive areas.
Fossil Fuels Have Got To Go, So Our Work Continues And We Need Your Support
Neither of these actions go far enough. Governor Hochul must stop other fossil fuel projects, support efforts to ban gas in new construction, and accelerate plans to phase out existing fossil fuel plants as New York state ramps up renewable energy. In California Newsom must stop all new fossil fuel projects including gas in new buildings, shut down the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, and expand his proposed rule to shut down existing neighborhood drilling. He also must aggressively work to expel fossil fuel money from the Democratic party as the oil and gas industry continues to block legislation in the Capitol.
Though there’s more to do, these actions are real wins that will have a meaningful impact on people’s lives and our climate. They are a sign of what is possible when we organize. They show how together, we can change the political dynamic and our future. And they prove that elected leaders will respond to public demands if we are consistent and powerful.
While heads of state debate how to address the climate crisis in Glasgow, these two wins are a great reminder that we do have the power to compel the changes that are needed. And it is a reminder that the only way we will be able to avoid runaway climate chaos is by growing an even bigger, more powerful, and uncompromised movement for change.
Will you stand with us and power more wins like these?
Your involvement adds up and makes a difference in our climate future.