100+ March for Ban on Fracking and End to Democratic Governors Taking Dirty Money
Today a coalition led by Americans Against Fracking, 350.org, Democracy for America and Food & Water Watch, among others marched at the Spring Policy Conference of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) calling for a ban on fracking and demanding that the organization “Stop Taking Dirty Money,” citing the more than $3.5 million the DGA has taken from companies in the oil and gas industry since 2008, according to analysis out this week by Food & Water Watch.
The march takes place in the wake of new research released by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press that shows that nationally, only 33 percent of Democrats polled favor the increased use of fracking.
The march is the beginning of a summer-long effort with planned actions at other DGA meetings in Colorado and possibly other cities to pressure five governors in particular— Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn—who are currently facing stark opposition to efforts to frack for oil and gas in their states.
“While it’s not surprising that the oil and gas industry is supporting a political organization, what is surprising is how much their support of the DGA has increased in the past five years—contributions are up more than 140 percent between 2008 and 2012,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “We need to expose their support of this organization, many of whom are presently the key decision makers on whether or not fracking goes forward in their states.”
Maryland Gov. O’Malley, the host of the DGA’s Spring Policy Conference, has attracted criticism from activists for his failure to use science to guide his decision on opening up the state to fracking. Last April, the O’Malley-appointed Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission issued a draft report warning that fracking could have significant negative impacts in Maryland. Still, O’Malley and other Maryland leaders are pushing forward with drilling as if it is inevitable.
Opponents of fracking believe that through O’Malley’s alliance with the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD), an industry group led by representatives from CONSOL Energy, Shell, Chevron, EQT Corporation and the Environmental Defense Fund, the governor is promoting the idea of industry-sponsored self-regulation. This week, Americans Against Fracking, Democracy for America and MoveOn.org will deliver to O’Malley more than 3,000 petitions urging him to ban fracking.
"We know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that fracking causes environmental destruction that risks the health and safety of entire communities,” said Jim Dean of Democract for America. “A handful of Democratic governors, including DGA Chair Gov. Peter Shumlin, have stepped up and led the charge to ban fracking in their states and they should be applauded. Other democratic governors need to be made aware that the people they're elected to govern want them to stop cozying up to the oil and gas industry and start proactively working to prevent fracking from poisoning drinking water, releasing potentially radioactive elements and jeopardizing our climate future."
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose presidential ambitions are a poorly kept secret, has faced fervent opposition to fracking. He recently deferred a decision on the future of fracking in New York to state health commissioners. Some New Yorkers have expressed concern with the process, stating that any review of the cumulative health impacts of fracking should take place in a transparent manner, not through backroom deals. A Siena College poll released this week found that more New Yorkers oppose fracking than support it, with 41 percent of respondents stating that are against the process.
Mike Hersh of Progressive Democrats of America and MoveOn said, "Democratic Party leaders must realize the base strongly opposes fracking. We need clean, green, 21st century energy. We don't want to trade clean water and air for natural gas."
In Illinois, a coalition of grassroots organizations recently urged Governor Pat Quinn and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to reject a bill that would lay the legal groundwork for fracking in the state, and instead pass a moratorium on the controversial energy extraction process. Although fracking is not currently taking place in Illinois, HB 2615 would bring regulatory certainty to the oil and gas industry and in effect open up the state to fracking. It would also endanger public health by establishing weak standards of operation for the oil and gas industry.
"Fracking raises genuine public health, safety, policy and environmental questions that have been completely pushed aside by energy industry influence. It is disheartening to see our elected officials so eager to take policy guidance from corporate donor interests and less so from the people who elected them. The problems facing America headed towards a 'fracking' future are very real and frightening and they won’t go away just because we put our heads in the sand or pass weak regulations," said Fred Tutman, Riverkeeper and CEO of the Patuxent Riverkeeper.
With 47,000 fracked wells throughout the state, and the oil and gas industry looking to substantially expand that number in the next decade, many consider Colorado the epicenter of fracking in the U.S. Earlier this year, residents of Longmont became the first in the state to ban the process and many other communities are now following suit. Yet, Governor Hickenlooper remains an ardent fan of fracking. Earlier this year, he testified before Congress against rules to regulate fracking on federal lands, opining that the government should leave decisions on the process up to the states.
Momentum against fracking is building on the West Coast too. In April, three bills that would halt the process in California won key votes despite intense pressure from the oil industry. Oil and gas wells have been fracked in at least nine California counties without fracking-specific regulation or even monitoring by state oil and gas officials.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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