Brown takes heat on fracking

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On Thursday Oct. 17, more than fifty people gathered in front of the Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel in downtown San Francisco to protest Governor Jerry Brown’s reception of an environmental award. 

Every year, the BlueGreen Alliance hosts its Right Stuff Awards dinner to honor prominent individuals promoting a sustainable environment and economy. This year, they selected Governor Jerry Brown as a winner in the government category. The choice enraged environmentalists, who congregated where the awards dinner was being held to voice their indignation.

Brought together by several collaborating organizations, including Idle No More and Gathering Tribes, the protesters blocked the entrance to Parc 55 as they awaited the governor’s arrival. Bearing signs with messages such as “Jerry Brown is Not BLUE or GREEN,” they yelled to drivers who honked horns in support as they sailed past.

They were upset by Brown’s support for Senate Bill 4, which he signed into law in September. SB-4 is California’s first legislation regulating hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, which involves shooting massive amounts of water and toxic chemicals deep into the earth to crack rock formations and release otherwise trapped oil and natural gas deposits.

Widely viewed as flawed legislation that is far from what environmentalists had in mind when they called for the practice to be regulated in California, the bill allows fracking permits to be approved as long as oil and gas companies publicly disclose which chemicals are used in the process. The legislation also requires groundwater and air quality monitoring before operations begin. Environmentalists fear that SB-4 will lead to a dramatic expansion of fracking in California, by allowing access to the state’s vast Monterey Shale deposit, estimated to hold 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

“This award from BlueGreen is a travesty,” declared protester Steve Ongerth, after a flash mob of young people danced to the song “Toxic” by Brittney Spears, dressed in shirts spelling out TOXIC while donning surgical masks.

In the past several years, Governor Brown has accepted at least $2.49 million in financial donations from oil and natural gas interests. Environmentalists point to these donations as an explanation of Brown’s refusal to impose a moratorium or an outright ban on fracking, despite pressure from a statewide coalition of organizations calling for such protective measures.

They also blame him for the changes made to SB-4 in the final week before the bill was voted on, which followed intense lobbying by oil and gas interests. The amendments substantially weakened restrictions on fracking by removing some of the bill’s tougher regulations and diluting language intended to ensure that new wells go through adequate environmental review.

“Jerry Brown has sold out the California public for his own self-serving interests. He made a deal with the devil,” said protester Pamela Zuppo of 350 Bay Area. “This is a fracking bill gone wrong. It is referred to as a regulation bill, but it is not. It is an institutionalization of fracking bill and it’s the destruction of our democracy.”

When he signed SB-4, Brown said it “establishes strong environmental protections and transparency requirements,” but added that he plans to seek additional changes next year to clarify the new requirements. So far, details remain sketchy on what areas of the bill will actually be addressed.

At the last minute, activists learned that Brown would not be attending the event to accept his award in person. When this was announced, the crowd of protesters let out a cheer.

But environmentalists who remain concerned about fracking are keeping the pressure on. On Saturday, Oct. 19, activists from 350.org, Food & Water Watch and the Center for Biological Diversity held a march and rally in downtown Oakland to call on Brown to ban fracking.

“Over the past year, Governor Brown has gone against the wishes and best interests of Californians — the majority of which oppose fracking — and has clearly stated his support for the dangerous drilling process, said Food & Water Watch Northern California Organizer Tia Lebherz.

“By doing this he is embarrassing himself and putting his legacy and our state's future at risk."

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