Anti-Fracking Activists Are Not What They Used to Be
**NOTE: This column was originally published by U-T San Diego.
Activists have long been a part of America’s public policy discussions, advocating tirelessly for social change.
Over the years, environmental activists specifically have pushed for policy options that were pragmatic, responsive to real problems and rooted in some form of reality. They have advocated for clean air and clean water protections, and have fought to preserve funding for public parks across the country. These resources, when protected, clearly benefit all of us. The results have been mixed, of course, but there is no denying the fundamental seriousness of early environmentalists’ intent.
One such activist is current California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has always made environmental issues, including addressing climate change and pushing for more renewable energy, his top priority. He has frequently opposed industry — especially California’s oil companies — regarding, among other things, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
How times have changed. All one needs to know about the fundamental un-seriousness of today’s radical environmental activists is captured in the slogan of the anti-fracking campaign of one such group: Oil Change International (OCI).
OCI has partnered with a laundry list of extremist groups including CREDO, Food & Water Watch and the Center for Biological Diversity claiming that there is a California politician who has blindly aligned himself with California’s energy industry, and has thus somehow abandoned reason and his lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship.
That politician? Gov. Jerry Brown, who — because he had the audacity to follow science and oppose an outright ban on “fracking” — has been dubbed “Big Oil Brown.”
OCI writes: “Jerry needs to pick a side: either he’s the climate champion he says he is, or he’s Big Oil Brown, champion of fracking and the oil companies.” Translation: If you don’t ideologically oppose a process that even the Obama administration has defended as safe, then you’re a sellout.
The fact is that Gov. Brown has listened to his scientific advisers, as well as scientists and regulators across the country, and recognizes that hydraulic fracturing is a fundamentally safe technology with manageable risks. As such, he and Democrats in the Legislature have decided that allowing fracking to continue in California, albeit with many more regulations, is consistent with their responsibility to jump-start the state’s economy and protect the environment.
Brown also knows that the United States leads the world in carbon dioxide emissions reductions because of the increased use of clean-burning natural gas. In fact, emissions are nearly at 1990 levels, which was the goal of California’s 2006 global warming law. Activists conveniently ignore this achievement, which would not have been possible without “fracking” unlocking a 100-year supply of domestic natural gas.
In fact, UC-Berkeley climate scientist Richard Muller said recently that environmentalists who oppose fracking are “making a tragic mistake.”
The governor also knows that every barrel of oil we produce in California is one less barrel we must import, often from countries with significantly fewer environmental protections than in California. Additionally, by producing more oil domestically, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Californians will benefit with the creation of high-paying jobs. This is why President Obama’s energy and climate change adviser Dan Utech said recently: “It’s better to produce these things [oil and natural gas] here than import them.”
Sadly, activists could be heard yelling things like “we don’t want these new jobs!” at a series of recent public hearings around the state regarding the implementation of California’s new hydraulic fracturing regulations. Would the people of Kern County — where 97 percent of all “fracking” in California occurs, and where the unemployment rate is in double digits — agree?
Thankfully, the debate about banning fracking in California is over. A bill to impose a moratorium on the practice only garnered 24 votes in the 80-member Assembly last legislative session, a margin of defeat not unlike what the activists suffered in deep-blue Illinois.
We are better off today because of at least some of the efforts of old-school, serious environmental agitators. But for new-style fringe activists like OCI and its allies to suggest that California’s policymakers — particularly lifelong environmental leaders like Brown — intentionally gave succor to any industry merely because their policy prescription avoided shutting it down, is as preposterous as it is insulting.