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From Gov. Jerry Brown On Down, Too Many California Democrats Sell Out On Fracking And Climate Change

Top Democrats ignore two-thirds of Californians who wanted a fracking moratorium.

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The reasons wary—political cowardice, corruption, compromise and election year self-interest—but regardless, many top Democrats in California, from Gov. Jerry Brown to a sizeable block of state senators, are not even allowing modest steps to postpone a gigantic new wave of oil and natural gas drilling in the state. 

Charles Stewart, the spokesman for California Sen. Holly Mitchell, whose district is in south and east Los Angeles, where newly expanded drilling shadows parks, schools and many poor neighborhoods, has had a front row seat and can’t say what’s most alarming.

Stewart has seen Democratic state senators sell out his boss, by skipping a recent vote on her statewide fracking moratorium. He’s seen Democrats get rewarded with campaign funds from oil and gas lobbyists for voting "no" on it. He’s seen Brown defend drilling and brush off environmentalists' concerns. And he’s seen broad anti-fracking sentiments ignored, from statewide polls overwhelmingly supporting a moratorium to dismissed public health and racial justice concerns.

“It wasn’t last minute,” Stewart said, speaking of the Democratic senators who in late May avoided voting on Mitchell’s moratorium, which would have postponed a new wave of drilling enabled by hydralic fracturing and other exteme techniques until the health and environmental impacts were known. “Holly Mitchell had carried a moratorium [bill] last year in the Assembly. It died on the floor. In both cases, it was not the opposition’s votes that defeated it. It was the failure of votes from our Democratic caucus.”

California’s environmentalists have many deep concerns. They are well aware that the 1,750-square-mile Monterey Shale formation, covering the state’s west-central section, is said to contain America’s biggest shale oil reserves. Federal energy agencies estimate it contains 13.7 billion barrels of oil. Above all, environmentalists believe that tapping that carbon source, like building the Keystone XL pipeline, would keep pushing atmospheric carbon to a point of no return, altering life as we know it on Earth.

“Tapping into that is not consistent with the steps we need to take to keep climate under control in this country and in the world,” Dan Jacobson, Environment California policy director and top lobbyist, recently told KALW-FM in San Francisco.

The environmentalists know that fracking requires tremendous amounts of water—at the same time California is facing a drought. They also don’t want to see drilling pollute groundwater that’s used by the Central Valley’s farmers who grow most of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts, which is already happening. They don’t want to see fracking increase the incidence and severity of earthquakes, citing that result in other states. A handful of small cities and counties have adopted fracking restrictions.

But they haven’t convinced enough Democrats who have the power to put the brakes on a new wave of fracking across California, starting with Jerry Brown.

As governor, Brown has been attacked by anti-fracking activists for his contradictory stances, touting California’s progress on climate change while supporting oil and gas drilling. When Brown spoke at the California Democratic Party’s Convention in March, he began by emphasizing the state's progress on climate change: reducing billions of tons of carbon emissions; generating a third of electricity from renewables; building 30 percent of nation’s electric cars; encouraging energy efficient buildings. But Brown was interrupted and heckled by anti-fracking activists from Culver City in Hlly Mitchell's district—the wells near Los Angeles’ LAX airport.   

In 1992, when Brown was the ex-California governor running for president, his pro-environmental legacy was seen as one reason that Bill Clinton picked environmentalist Al Gore as his running mate. At that convention, Brown’s delegates jeered and waved signs saying, “Save The Soul of Party.” As he stood before his state’s 2014 Democratic Convention and tried to generate enthusiasm for a fourth term, Brown was interrupted by jeers of “Ban fracking,” “No fracking,” and signs saying the same thing.