The Fossil Fuel Industry Spent $3.3M In New Mexico To Undermine Climate Action

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Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg

The powerful fossil fuel industry flexed its significant muscle in New Mexico this year, blocking a bill which would have paused new fracking in the third largest oil producing state in the country. Yet despite this setback, anti-fracking voices continued to make progress this legislative session.

Fossil Fuel Interests Unleashed A Tidal Wave of Money On Elections In New Mexico

It is hard to understate the influence of fossil fuel money on politics in New Mexico. According to a report from New Mexico Ethics Watch, the fossil fuel industry spent $3.3 million on elections in the state in the 2020 cycle and leadership of both parties accepted significant campaign contributions from them. For this reason, when state Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez introduced a bill to pause fracking this year, few gave it much of a chance of passing out of a single committee, let alone the legislature.

Still, Food & Water Watch and our allies across the state rallied around Sedillo Lopez’s bill, generating hundreds of emails and phone calls to legislators as well as significant media coverage. The result was the bill passing out of the Conservation committee. Though the bill ultimately died in the Judiciary Committee when Chair Joseph Cervantes refused to bring it forward for a vote, the fact that it passed out of its first committee showed the growing strength of the anti-fracking movement in the state. It was not surprising that Cervantes killed the bill as he received 17% of his campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. 

This legislative battle highlighted both the growing anti-fracking movement in the state as well as the power of the oil and gas industry. This year we worked to help bring together diverse groups to support the fracking pause bill in the legislature. Bringing together a statewide coalition effort is an important step in building a more powerful presence in New Mexico. 

The State of New Mexico Must Reduce Its Dependence on Fossil Fuel Revenue So They Can Adapt

At the same time, it is clear that the oil and gas industry continues to run politics in New Mexico, thanks to their significant political spending and also the way New Mexico funds its governmental operations. Approximately a third of the New Mexico state budget comes from revenue from the oil and gas industry. This state dependence on fossil fuels gives industry an extraordinary amount of political power and leverage in addressing legislation. It is therefore critical that New Mexico diversify its revenue streams and economy if the state is ever going to move off fossil fuels. 

For this reason, we are heartened by passage of SB 112, which for the first time creates a task force to study how to advance this critical economic diversification. While the bill is much needed, we remain skeptical about how much progress will be made, as the bill still allows the oil industry to have a seat at the table and the person in charge of the taskforce — Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham — took over $50 thousand in oil money during the 2020 election cycle. 

Time Will Tell If Governor Grisham Is More Than Just Talk On Clean Energy 

This task force will be a key test for Lujan Grisham. The Governor has called climate change an “existential crisis” and said we need a “clean energy revolution,” yet has spoken out against Biden administration plans to halt leasing for oil and gas on federal lands and continues to take money from dirty energy interests. How she guides the task force will be a key indicator of whether she is really interested in a renewable energy future or just interested in window dressing for the fossil fuel industry.

As we move forward, we will continue to pressure Lujan Grisham to end the state’s dependence on fossil fuels, as well as take on the factory farm industry which continues to pollute New Mexico’s environment. At the same time, we will continue work to protect the greater Chaco region from fracking, in concert with our partners in the Chaco coalition. 

New Mexico is a big oil state and change here will not come overnight. Still, the 2020 legislative session represents progress and we are well positioned to work with our allies across the state to build on the progres from this session as we work to advance a clean energy future.

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Frontline Environmental Justice Activists Condemn Energy Preemption Bills

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Climate and Energy

Tallahassee, FL — Today, activists on the frontlines of environmental injustice joined with environmental advocates to condemn the suite of energy preemption bills that headed to Governor DeSantis’ desk for signature earlier this week.

If signed into law, Florida’s suite of energy preemption bills, SB 1128/HB 919, SB 856/ HB 839 and SB 896/ HB 539, will prevent renewable energy development and block community choice. Not only do the bills eliminate the power of local governments to act on their constituents’ demands to move off fossil fuels, but they also prevent local community oversight in these decisions.

With one day left in the Florida legislative session, advocates highlighted the legislature’s focus on bills that stripped local communities of their power and choice. From the bad anti-protest legislation signed into law last week that has already mired Governor DeSantis in legal controversy to to the suite of energy preemption bills that represent the most aggressive move in the country to curtail the transition away from fossil fuels, the Florida legislature has prioritized bills this session that attack and eliminate community political involvement.

“Florida has become ground zero for a new brand of conservatism that strips away local power, control and choice, in favor of catering to industry interests,” said Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director Michelle Allen. “When regular people organize, they build power large enough to solve the biggest problems of our day — Florida Republicans know the strength of our power, and are choosing to dismantle it. Governor DeSantis must veto the energy preemption bills sitting on his desk, before he secures the fate of Florida’s climate and most vulnerable communities.”

“This legislative session was incredibly harmful for our civil rights,” said For Our Future Florida Regional Director Bernice Lauredan. “Protest is an American tradition that dates back to the founding of our country. It is unfortunate that instead of focusing on the largest public health crisis in a century, Republicans are taking rights away from Floridians.”

From Gainesville to Tampa, Miami to the panhandle, activists from frontline communities and environmental organizations gathered to highlight the role that communities and local governments play in mitigating climate disaster. The groups highlighted how the suite of legislation exposes frontline communities to exploitation from utility projects by out-of-town corporate actors, and is based in the same injustice as the anti-protest bill.

“We are advocating for well-sited industrial power plants and home rule — we want a transition to renewables. We have to do it, however, with the community at the forefront of these decisions,” said Michelle Rutledge from the Saint Peter/Saint Paul Community Council in Archer, who alongside neighbors led successful local organizing efforts against a utility-scale solar project in Archer last year. “We encourage an inclusive and just transition to cleaner energy. We need an inclusive, equitable and just implementation.”

Advocates point to Initiative for Energy Justice’s Scorecard as a resource to help communities and elected officials identify if decisions around policies and potential energy projects were made with adequate community input.

“The outcome of passing these types of preemptions is that local input will be silenced,” said Gerie Crawford from the Saint Peter/Saint Paul Community Council in Archer. “The voices of local government(s), property owners, rural and historic communities would be excluded from the conversation, thus having no input in the decisions affecting our neighborhoods and promoting environmental injustices at every level.”

For a recording of the event, please reach out to [email protected].

Methane Emissions Rule is Another Half-Measure in Dem’s Tepid Climate Agenda

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Climate and Energy

Washington, D.C. – The Senate is expected to approve a resolution today that would reinstate an Obama-era rule requiring stronger regulation of methane emissions from oil and gas extraction operations. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter issued the following statement:

“The Senate’s move to reinstate an Obama-era emissions rule is nothing more than an attempt to address today’s climate crisis with inadequate half-measures from the past. In fact, any action that could be seen as ‘cleaning up’ the image of fossil fuel drilling and fracking might do more harm than good. The science is clear: In order to avoid the worst impacts of deepening climate chaos, we must halt new oil and gas development in its tracks, and transition rapidly to a truly clean, renewable energy future.”

Earlier this week, details of a new United Nations climate report were revealed, indicating higher-then-ever emissions levels in the atmosphere last year, and the dire urgency of the need to drastically reduce emissions immediately to avoid perilous climate conditions.

Meanwhile, as President Biden marks his 100th day in office this week, he has yet to honor his campaign pledge to halt new fracking on federal lands. Although the Biden administration has temporarily paused the leasing of new federal land for fossil fuel drilling and fracking, it has continued to grant permits on land that has already been leased. Ms. Hauter continued:

“President Biden’s campaign pledge was clear and unequivocal: no more fracking on federal lands. Yet for the past 100 days, his administration has been regularly approving permits for new fracking operations. Biden needs to honor his pledge to all Americans and cease the permitting of new fracking now. Additionally, Mr. Biden should use his executive authority to halt the development of oil and gas projects approved by the Trump administration, including the Dakota Access, Line 3 and Mountain Valley pipelines. And he must cancel new fossil fuel infrastructure, including petrochemical plants, and ban the export of fracked oil and gas.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected], 917.363.6615

The Interior Department Has a Legal Duty To Protect Our Public Lands

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Climate and Energy

by Adam Carlesco, Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney

On the campaign trail, Joe Biden was adamant about stopping oil and gas drilling on public lands. Now it’s time to actually make it happen.

Biden Has Laid The Groundwork To End Leasing Of Public Lands For Fossil Fuel Extraction

In the first few days of his presidency, President Biden signed two executive orders which directed the Department of Interior to temporarily halt the leasing of public lands for fossil fuel extraction. During that time, the administration pledged that it would review how to reform its lands leasing policy to best fight climate change in a scientifically informed manner.

While that new policy is still months away, the pause was a significant start. While public lands have the potential to be a major global carbon sink, federal lands currently produce nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions due to decades of extensive land leasing to private oil, gas, and coal extraction corporations at bargain basement rates. As one of the largest single historical contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, the Interior Department’s continued leasing of public lands for the extraction of fossil fuels would threaten climatological stability which, in turn, would drastically impact endangered plant and animal species, exacerbate wildfires, degrade air quality, and threaten many freshwater sources.

The Department Of Interior Can – and Should – Ban Fracking

The continued degradation of public lands and the global ecosphere is not simply unacceptable, it is contrary to the laws that govern the Department of Interior. As the largest landholder in the U.S. and the principal public land management agency, the department is tasked under the Federal Land Policy Management Act with ensuring that public lands preserve “multiple uses” which requires lands be used for “a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses that take into account the long-term needs of future generations.” It must also ensure that a sustained yield of “renewable resources” (i.e., freshwater, fish, wildlife, plants) be maintained in perpetuity. In order to see that public lands are managed accordingly, Interior is mandated to “take any action necessary to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands” it manages, and has great latitude in how it prevents such degradation.

The continued leasing of these lands for fossil fuels amidst a global climate emergency simply does not comport with Interior’s multiple use and sustained yield management requirements and, in fact, would lead to undue and unnecessary degradation of public lands.

Food & Water Watch Spelled Out The Legal Case For Ending Fossil Fuel Leasing On Public Lands

In comments filed with Interior on April 15, 2021, Food & Water Watch laid out how the agency is legally required to cease its destructive leasing practices if it is to truly comply with its statutory requirements while living up to President Biden’s directive to “to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; … to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; [and] to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Food & Water Watch further countered common industry talking points which seek simple “reform” of Interior’s leasing program, via the false solutions of carbon taxes and implementing carbon capture and sequestration systems which do not address the gravity of the climate crisis while still allowing continued extraction and combustion of polluting fossil fuels.

This comment period was an informal method to solicit input from the concerned public, but the Interior Department will need to engage in robust public outreach and environmental review of its leasing program as it goes forward with its next steps. As the department is legally required to pursue the least-harm alternative in land management, a thorough and candid environmental review of this program can only result in one outcome – a halt to all fossil fuel extraction on public lands. As this process unfolds, Food & Water Watch will continue its work of ensuring that ordinary people, when organizing together, have their voices heard by those in power. Together we can stop fossil fuel extraction on public lands and work towards a greener future.

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Sussex County Council Approves Up to $60 Million in Bonds to Cover Bioenergy DevCo Costs

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Climate and Energy

Georgetown, DE — Today, the Sussex County Council voted to approve up to $60 million in Private Activity Bonds to cover construction and other costs associated with Bioenergy DevCo’s recently approved biogas scheme. The vote came one week after the Council voted to approve a conditional use permit for the industrial gas production facility to be sited near Seaford in an agricultural-residential zone, despite an outpouring of public opposition.

In order to build their massive gas production and refining project, Bioenergy DevCo will need to secure numerous state pollution permits. If permitted, this Sussex County factory farm gas facility will be the company’s first in Delaware and their fourth project in the United States since joining forces with Italy-based BTS Biogas to enter the US market. A portion of the $60 million in private activity bonds will be exempt from federal income taxes, meaning taxpayers will subsidize the start-up costs of the dirty gas facility, rather than go toward projects that directly benefit County residents. The site is located in a community where a third of the residents currently live below the poverty line. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote confirms one of our worst suspicions — that taxpayers will subsidize the cost of this polluting facility, all to assure venture capitalists a ready profit. The hundreds of residents who expressed public opposition to the biogas scheme should have been considered in the decision to issue the tax exempt bonds, which are limited in supply, to fund the very project they opposed. Governor Carney must stop this project in its tracks, and direct the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to deny Bioenergy DevCo its pollution permits.”

Florida Legislature Passes Extreme Energy Preemption Bills

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Climate and Energy

Tallahassee, FL — Yesterday, the Florida State Senate voted to pass a suite of energy preemption legislation that has been making its way through the legislature. The bills, SB 1128/HB 919 and SB 856/HB 839, now head to Governor DeSantis’ desk for his signature. If signed into law, the suite of bills would preempt any local government action to restrict or prohibit sources of energy production, thus hampering local governments’ abilities to move off fossil fuels. 

Part of a nationwide push by the oil and gas industry to preempt local government initiatives to move off fossil fuels, Florida’s bills are the most stringent to move ahead in any of the fourteen states with similar legislation under consideration. Another dangerous bill making its way through the legislature is SB 896/HB 539, which would redefine Florida’s clean energy to include false solutions like “renewable natural gas,” ensuring fossil fuel industry entrenchment for years to come. The bill would also prevent communities from being able to decide if and where to site utility-scale solar installations. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Florida Senior Organizer Brooke Errett issued the following statement:

“The Florida legislature is drilling the nail into their own coffin. Instead of following the lead of our local legislators who have forged boldly ahead with clean energy resolutions that respond to constituent demands, our state legislators are carrying water for industry interests. Florida will suffer from these energy preemption bills today and in the future, as we try to fight climate change’s worst impacts only to find our toolboxes emptied. Governor DeSantis pledged to fight for Florida’s environment and ban fracking — which he has thus far failed to do. DeSantis now has the chance to rise to this historic occasion and veto these dangerous energy preemption bills, or he will be responsible for driving the final stake into the heart of Florida’s clean energy future.”

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(Note: For additional background, read this op-ed by Food & Water Watch Senior Florida organizer Brooke Errett)

Gov. Newsom’s Future Fracking Ban is a Half-Measure

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Climate and Energy

Sacramento, CA — Today California Governor Gavin Newsom once more declined to use his executive power to ban fracking, opting instead to direct CALGem to phase out new fracking permits by January 2024 and phase out oil extraction by 2045. These measures fall far short of demands, failing to address more than 242,000 state-regulated wells already in operation. The move underscores Newsom’s efforts to rebuild his reputation as a climate leader after a fracking ban died in the legislature, lacking his support. 

Statement of Food & Water Watch California Director Alexandra Nagy:

“While it is significant that for the first time Governor Newsom is acknowledging the need to ban fracking and his authority to do it, this announcement is a half measure as it allows continued drilling and fracking for the next two and a half years. It comes after years of pressure and dedicated organizing by thousands of Californians who want a just transition away from fracking now.

“Directing his regulatory agencies to do the work over two and a half years that the governor can do today is more of the dodging we’ve seen from Newsom during his entire tenure. Phasing out oil drilling is absolutely necessary, but 2045 is a long way off. Until then, Newsom leaves Californians on the frontlines to pay for the oil industry’s scars on the landscape and damage to community health. He needs to use the authority the law has given him to stop issuing all new oil and gas permits, ban fracking completely and phase out oil drilling now starting with a 2,500 foot health and safety buffer between wells and sensitive sites. Newsom needs to protect our water supplies as we head into a destructive drought and guard our frontline communities from further harm.”

In 2020, Newsom approved 83 fracking permits for 608 individual fracking events, according to state regulators at CalGEM. This was out of 3,745 total permits for oil and gas wells in 2020. In total Governor Newsom has approved 8,129 drilling permits since taking office. 85 percent of those living within 2,500 feet of an oil well are Hispanic or non-white. 90 percent of California’s fracked land is owned by the state and unaffected by President Biden’s January executive order pausing the issuance of leases on federal land.

Contact: Jessica Gable – [email protected]

US Steel Backs Out of Edgar Thomson Fracking Well Scheme

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Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Today, US Steel announced that it was abandoning its plan for a fracking well at the Edgar Thomson mill in East Pittsburgh. 

The dangerous scheme to drill in a densely populated community has drawn intense opposition from the start. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Pennsylvania State Director Megan McDonough released the following statement: 

“Since the day this fracking plan was announced, this community has fought to stop this project. We know all too well the dangers of fracking, and folks in the Mon Valley are sick of being the sacrifice zone for the fossil fuel industry. 

“While folks like John Fetterman were siding with the frackers, our community worked with local political leaders to protect ourselves from an outrageously dangerous plan hatched by an out-of-state corporation to drill a new fracking well in a densely-populated community.”

Contact: Megan McDonough, [email protected]

Biden Emissions Goal is Inadequate

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Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Multiple news reports suggest that the White House is set to announce a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels.  

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:

“While these White House goals are being lauded as aggressive, they are inadequate. As the world’s historical largest emitter of climate pollution, we have a duty to do much more, and to act with greater urgency.

“These goals — based on comparisons to exceptionally high 2005 emission levels — will be meaningless without policies that explicitly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Biden can make real headway on that front by fulfilling his campaign pledge to end fossil fuel extraction on public lands. He must also halt all new fossil fuel projects, which are polluting frontline communities and driving up emissions, and should join the push to ban fracking everywhere.

“It is also vital that Democrats in Congress zero out fossil fuel subsidies in any infrastructure and climate packages — including the giveaways for industry-friendly carbon capture schemes.” 

Contact: Peter Hart, [email protected]

The Joe Manchin Problem In This Climate Moment

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Climate and Energy

PHOTO CC-BY © SENATE DEMOCRATS / FLICKR.COM

by Peter Hart

After getting a massive recovery plan through Congress, the Biden administration unveiled its next move: A $2.3 trillion dollar jobs and infrastructure proposal that prioritizes a host of clean energy initiatives and upgrades to our water systems. While the package — dubbed the American Jobs Plan — would be progress after four years of Trump, it falls short of what we truly need to tackle these crises. That’s why activists and some Democratic lawmakers are already demanding more.

As this unfolds, Democratic lawmakers are keenly aware of the need to please one of their own: West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. But appeasing Manchin cannot come at the expense of climate action and environmental justice.

Manchin has already shown that he’s willing to act as a spoiler, or at least threaten to do so. His initial reluctance to support the White House’s $1.9 trillion COVID recovery plan led to a last minute scramble; in the end, Manchin voted with the rest of the party, but only after “winning” a reduction in unemployment benefits. And during the legislative debate over that relief bill, Manchin also emerged as one of the loudest opponents of increasing the federal minimum wage.

Manchin’s Fossil Fuel Friendly Record is a Problem

When it comes to climate action and halting the fossil fuel industry, we don’t need to wait for any upcoming votes to understand where Manchin is coming from. In February he wrote two letters to Biden; one urged the president to reconsider his executive order stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, while the other touting fracked gas as a boon to “our nation’s energy security” that could fuel a surge of new petrochemical facilities. And before the White House rolled out its American Jobs Plan, Manchin was vowing that any deal needed to draw Republican support — an exceptionally unlikely prospect. “I’m not going to do it through reconciliation,” he said.

This has left many to lament the fact that Manchin holds what amounts to ‘veto power’ over the entire Biden legislative agenda. It is not yet clear whether he really intends to use it to thwart a golden opportunity to create millions of jobs and build the clean energy economy of the future. Manchin knows that he holds considerable sway; as he recently told a radio host in his home state, “If I don’t vote to get on it, it’s not going anywhere.” 

But a Powerful Climate Movement Can Win In Spite Of The Manchin Problem

What is crystal clear, though, is that the politics around the climate crisis have swung dramatically in favor of real action. A little over a decade ago, Manchin’s Senate campaign included a commercial where he quite literally shot a copy of the failed Obama-backed cap and trade bill. So It’s a sign of real progress that lawmakers nowadays are backing substantially more ambitious proposals than were being pushed back then. And even more importantly, the grassroots movement demanding real action is even more powerful.

When push comes to shove, the climate movement — and the absolute necessity of coming up with a bold plan to get off fossil fuels — will prove to be more powerful than a single senator.

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