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California Leaders: Clean Up Your Fracking Mess Of A Bill

Damon Nagami

Posted September 12, 2013

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Some 11th-hour shenanigans from the oil industry and the governor’s office have allowed a good bill to go bad and pass through the California legislature without a full airing on its flaws. Fracking bill SB 4 passed late last night and now goes to the governor for his signature. We need California leaders to right that wrong. And the governor also needs to put in place a moratorium until the risks of fracking can be fully evaluated – something we’ve been calling for him to do from the get-go.

Here’s what’s gone down: NRDC and our partners strongly supported SB 4 until the latest round of amendments, pushed by the oil industry and Governor Brown, called into question the applicability of CEQA and the state’s ability to halt fracking and acidization. The most problematic provision in the amendments could potentially be interpreted to give Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) broad discretion to exempt fracking and acidization from local CEQA review -- forever.

We raised these concerns immediately with the bill’s author, Senator Fran Pavley, and have been working to fix these provisions. We know Senator Pavley is committed to working with us to guard against negative, unintended outcomes of her bill. But we need our California leaders to fix this now before SB 4 heads to the governor’s desk as a bad bill. At the same time, what we desperately need is to impose a moratorium until we can fully assess the threats of fracking and acidization to California’s air, water, and neighborhoods. Governor Brown has the power to impose that moratorium and he should do so in order to protect the people of California.

Californians deserve strong, thoughtful, protective legislation that puts their communities and their health first -- not some last-minute amendments that undermine the very purpose of the bill in the first place. Government leaders: fix this mess.

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Lauren SteinerSep 13 2013 01:51 AM

You know what I'm going to say. I'll try to be polite. It is disingenuous of you to say we desperately need a moratorium. All of us in Californians Against Fracking have been begging you to take this position from the beginning. The NRDC did not buy ads in Sacramento papers to support Holly Mitchell's strong moratorium bill AB 1323 like you did for SB 4. You did not produce a slick video for 1323 like you did for SB 4. You never enlisted any of the many A list Hollywood celebrities in NRDC's stable to be spokespeople for a moratorium. You have always favored regulation over a moratorium as long as I've known you. When I wrote my article "California's Fracking Regulatory Bill: Less Than Zero" I did not anticipate these amendments. But even before them, it was clear that this bill did not regulate fracking. It established a regulatory framework and left the regulations for other agencies to do in the future. We all know that DOGGR doesn't challenge these permits. That's why Brown fired the head of DOGGR and the DOC in 2011. That should have been your tip off that he was NEVER going to go against Big Oil and approve any fracking regulations with teeth. Brown played you all and Pavley too. By the time these amendments came around, she had so much invested, she just wanted a bill to pass. In a 25 minute phone conversation with me prior to my petition delivery of 20,00 signatures asking her to withdraw her bill and fight for a ban instead, she touted the CEQA requirements of her bill. When I asked her what it would take for her to drop her bill, she said "We still have five more weeks to see if I can get a strong regulatory bill passed." And later "But like you said, Lauren, I will not be a pawn of the oil industry," implying that she would not allow her bill to be watered down. Well, she did cave at the end. And I think you and the other three Big Green groups who worked so hard to greenwash this bill, really need to take some ownership of your contribution to this travesty. Had you not supported it, testified on behalf of it, allowed editorial boards to think it was favored by environmentalists, it might have not gotten this far. Now California will be all fracked up, and it will be all the harder to get a moratorium. I know you all mean well as individuals. But in general Big Green groups need to be much less compromise oriented. Saving the planet is more important than getting a seat at the table.

Peg MitchellSep 13 2013 09:29 AM

I appreciate what Big Green groups bring to the table with your expertise, large numbers of supporters and clout and inside access that us in the grassroots domain don't have. That makes your role ever more important as we march towards climate annihilation. We are now past the time of trying to work partnerships, build relationships etc. with the very industry that won't stop until there isn't a single human left on this planet to purchase their product. You can not be complicit in this any longer. We shouldn't be trying to regulate fracking so it's "safe". How do you make the horrific emissions of this oil, which CARB scored dirtier than tar sands oil, "safe" once it's exported out of state to be burned elsewhere? Are you going to fight for citizens to preserve their right to have reasonably priced and available fresh water rather than allow the oil industry to frack it all away? How "safe" will we be when the Sierra snow pack is gone and the Colorado, already unable to fill our reservoirs, goes the way of the Rio (not so) Grande? You, Damian stood right there next to me when Felicia Marcus expressed her significant concern over our water situation yet NRDC proceeds forward in support of a bill to regulate the raping of Earth. This is not an action that "defends our natural resources". I hope you take my comments in the way they are meant. It's time we all band together to fight for one and only one goal: we must now fight back on every aspect possible to prevent further degradation of our climate and any actions that enable that. Imagine the size of our movement if we all walked in lockstep! Join us!

Jed HoltzmanSep 14 2013 02:27 AM

Last-minute water-downs are par for the course, and we knew WSPA was in there hard--this is exactly the predictable end that the "oppose" folks were talking about, and it is hard to understand how "outside" citizen activists could be more savvy about this issue than "inside" folks who are paid to spend much of their time in the oily chambers of Sacramento and/or Washington, and who actually see this happen all the time.

I do not identify with one pole of the SB 4 debate; I have been torn. In in-person meetings with my state legislators and staff, I have focused on making clear that we wanted a ban or safety-based moratorium and that, whatever the virtues of regulation, there was no way to regulate the warming that would result from the horrifically carboniferous oil for which they were fracking, no way to regulate for the massive amount of water that is needed for the process to occur, and no way to regulate earthquakes (yet).

The WSPA, to use a relevant example, has the power to get poison pills or gutting amendments in there at the last minute, and keep them in. Your organization, to use a relevant example, does not have that power to do the converse, or the inverse. Nor do we as grassroots activists/leaders. I would ask we be much clearer about this going forward when choosing how we interface with the legislative process.

Roland SheppardSep 14 2013 02:34 PM

We are now in for a real drought -- the water for fracking will come from Northern California’s new water project to feed the thirsts of the big oil companies and not the real farmers in the valley.
Read my essay Why Oil Companies Want California’s Water All Fracked Up!
Big Oil Fracking Our Environment Fracking: Oil Shale Oil, Water and Politicians Do Mix,

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