In May of 2012, when more than 108,000 acres of Michigan’s state land went up for bid, including unprecedented offerings of state game and recreation areas for oil and gas leasing, members of the public crowded into a 60-seat room (and lined the hallway outside) as 15 protestors rose from the public seats that rimmed the bidder’s tables, standing to voice their opposition to oil and gas development—particularly to fracking—on state land.
Six months later, when another 193,000 acres went up for bid, 40 of the more than 100 protestors present rose from the public seating area at the back of the Lansing Center’s larger meeting room and proclaimed their opposition to bidders seated at tables up front. Seven protestors—including three who attempted a lock-down to stop the auction—were arrested.
What the Michigan public was waking up to was a quiet leasing frenzy that peaked with the record-setting auction of 2010, when industry speculation over Michigan’s oil and gas rich deep shale layers brought in $178 million dollars—more than $1,500 per acre. By the time protestors began showing up at the Michigan Department of Natural Resource (MDNR) auctions, much of the state’s forest and park lands were going for minimum, unopposed bids of $10 per acre, and the Attorney General’s office was investigating charges of collusion between Chesapeake and Encana.
Protestors at the May 2013 auction, many back for a third time, decided to “voice” their opposition to what they view as the state’s silencing of the public with a visual symbol. Instead of shouting comments about the sacredness of water or the toxicity of flowback, protestors entered the auction room with duct tape stretched across their mouths.
Lieutenant Steve Burton, in charge of a dozen armed MDNR conservation officers who lined the public seating area and an additional 12-15 Lansing police officers who stood guard in the hallway or rode bicycles around the Lansing Center, said just before the auction began, “We just want to keep everyone safe. To make sure everyone attending feels safe.”
Protestors, however, seemed united in the feeling that oil and gas industry bidders and their right to extract minerals and water from state land was what the state was protecting.
Nicole Berens-Capizzi, a crisis worker from the Holland, MI area, commented on the now-familiar "No Public Comment Allowed" sign and the ratio of armed guards (25) to members of the public (50 protestors in the auction room) of about 1:2. “Why are we being treated as a threat while conservation officers smile and treat with respect and dignity the representatives from the oil and gas industry, those who pose a real threat to public health and safety?”
As the auctioneer prattled through the first few parcels at 9 a.m., it was clear that speaking out wasn’t what protestors had in mind. Instead, they created a steady barrage of annoyances: cell phones rang for an hour and a duck quack brought a chuckle. Armed conservation officers roamed the seating area, leaning in to locate the offending ring tones and escorting out any noisemakers. By 10 a.m., most of the silent protestors holding “People before Profits” and “What the Frack?” signs had been escorted out.
One tense moment came when a young man videotaping was pulled up from his seat, suspected of possessing a ringing phone. Kathy Roper, a retired teacher from Douglas,MI, reacted verbally, asking the conservation officer, “What are you conserving?” Roper was escorted out, continually asking the officer, “Why can’t you answer my question? What are you conserving?”
At 11 a.m., representatives of several citizen action groups gathered for a press conference. Mariah Urueta of Citizens Against Drilling on Public Land reviewed the group's organization of public comment sessions and protests regarding the MDNR's failure to protect public land.
Dr. Phil Bellfy, a retired Michigan State professor representing the indigenous land rights movement Idle No More, outlined tribal rights associated with the 1836 Land Cessation Treaty, 2007 Inland Consent Decree and 2012 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which together, says Bellfy, grant Upper Great Lakes region tribes the right to "protect the resources" of ceded lands, meaning oil and gas development should not be occurring on most northern Michigan frack well sites without tribal consent.
Ellis Boal of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan gave an overview of the committee's ballot initiative to prohibit horizontal fracking and frack wastes in Michigan, and the all-volunteer effort to collect 258,088 valid signatures by Oct. 1.
Nash referred to the state’s rush toward fracking as more than backward. “Fracking isn’t a step backwards,” he said, “it’s a U-turn in terms of water use, the chemicals used, the destruction caused by a highly industrialized process.”
Protestors then moved to the Lansing Public Library for three concurrent workshops.
Deep Water Earth First! facilitated a workshop on direct action, using a “Spectrum of Allies” chart to illustrate how movements for social change don’t suddenly swing supporters from the “actively supportive” end to the “active opponents” at the other end. Movements tend to gain the most momentum where ideological slices of the pie touch—at points of common concern.
Brian Keeley and Stephanie Mabes of Kent County Water Conservation gave attendees an overview of their experiences building relationships with decision makers in the townships north of Grand Rapids, MI, where the Rogue River Recreation area and the banks of the Grand River were auctioned for oil and gas development in October of 2012. They announced some success: with the help of Flow for Water, a Michigan policy team providing townships with example ordinances and resolutions, including Cannon Township that drafted a moratorium on fracking based on a similar moratorium passed by West Bloomfield Township in Oakland county.
Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition’s Caitlin Richards offered counter points attendees might use when the public is presented, in the typical oil and gas leasing meetings, with “safe fracking” information which she noted the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality uses to “minimize of the dangers and the chemicals used.”
As workshop participants convened for a final discussion, Lebherz debunked the industry’s claim (and now, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce’s suggestion too) that people opposed to fracking are “fringe groups” who do not represent the public. “In truth,” she said, “we are a diverse collection of compassionate, intelligent and informed citizens who have deep concerns based on the best available science and the experiences of people living with fracking.”
From May 31 to June 2, Michiganders representing citizen-led organizations around the state will meet for a second time this year to share research, skills and their unique points of effectiveness at Circle Pines, a cooperative peace, justice and environmental education center surrounded by state land that has been leased for oil and gas development. The goal of this second Common Ground Against Fracking retreat is to create a statewide strategic action plan.
“Not to tie anyone’s hands in terms of dictating methods,” says Rachel Zegerius of Circle Pines, “but to strengthen our growing network of support, to map out what each of us is doing and how we can each contribute to protecting our communities” from what she calls an “irresponsible method of gas and oil extraction.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
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By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-epa-head-steps-down-after-wave-of-ethics-management-scandals/2018/07/05/39f4251a-6813-11e8-bea7-c8eb28bc52b1_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">private meetings</a> with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "<a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-pruitt-leaves-20180705-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history</a>," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.</p><p>Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/andrew-wheeler-acting-epa-administrator-former-number-two-before-scott-pruitt-resignation/" target="_blank">former coal industry lobbyist</a> and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.</p><p>At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/07/epa-dismisses-half-of-its-scientific-advisers-on-key-board-citing-clean-break-with-obama-administration/" target="_blank">ditched more than 200 advisory panels</a>, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/interior-secretary-zinke-resigns-amid-investigations/2018/12/15/481f9104-0077-11e9-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history</a>," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.</p><p>The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of <a href="https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/this-is-still-happening-david-bernhardt-trump-lincoln.html" target="_blank">several government ethics complaints</a> for various violations favoring polluting industries.</p><p>More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19032015/u-delaware-refuses-disclose-funding-sources-its-climate-contrarian" target="_blank">funded by fossil fuel interests</a>, was hired for a <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912301325/longtime-climate-science-denier-hired-at-noaa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top job</a> advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2020/9/18/noaa_david_legates_climate_crisis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasing carbon emissions</a>.</p><p>The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/482352-trump-budget-slashes-funding-for-epa-environmental-programs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets</a>.</p>
The Damage So Far<p>A September 17 <a href="https://rhg.com/research/the-rollback-of-us-climate-policy/" target="_blank">report</a> by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.</p><p>Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.</p><p>The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.</p>
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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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