A GOP governor’s surprising stand against fracking

Despite the growing evidence about problems from tainted wells to earthquakes, it’s taken a while for opposition to fracking to build, especially among our elected officials. Back in the mid-2000s when the boom in unconventional drilling for natural gas and oil was just taking off, many governors and other politicians were sold on the promise of new jobs and that natural gas would be a cleaner burning fuel than coal and, as a result, would be good for the environment as well.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that energy companies and their lobbyists tended to be major political donors. When engineers raised the prospect of tapping into once unreachable pools of fossil fuel that could be produced and sold through the fracking process, leaders like Maryland Republican Larry Hogan saw little else besides a huge economic opportunity for their state. In Hogan’s successful 2014 campaign to become governor, he called natural gas reserves underneath Maryland “an economic gold mine.”

Further north, where the governors were Democratic and the electorate was more liberal, two states actually banned fracking because of all the negative impacts on the environment: Vermont, and after considerable pressure from the large activist community in New York City, New York State. A third state had actually placed a two-year moratorium on drilling: Larry Hogan’s Maryland. With the moratorium expiring, mostly Democratic lawmakers are pushing through a complete fracking ban, and now the one-time drilling advocate Hogan has shocked environmentalists with word that he will sign the measure:

Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday he supports banning fracking, a surprise revelation that could make Maryland one of the first states to ban the controversial method of drilling for natural gas. The Republican governor said passing legislation to prohibit fracking was “an important initiative to safeguard our environment.

“I urge members of the legislature on both sides of the aisle and in both houses to come together and finally put this issue to rest,” Hogan said during a State House news conference. Some Democratic lawmakers in the General Assembly and environmental advocates have pushed for years to ban fracking.

Environmentalists say Maryland would become the first state with natural gas that could be fracked from underground shale to pass a law banning the practice. New York, which also has shale gas, banned the practice by executive order. Vermont passed a law to ban fracking, but has no gas that could be fracked. “This would be the most nationally significant environmental bill Maryland has ever passed,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Environmentalists were both surprised and pleased at a victory at a difficult time for the movement:

Thomas Meyer, a Maryland organizer for the national group Food and Water Watch, said Hogan’s announcement should send a message to politicians in other states that banning fracking is a smart decision. “It says to Republicans: This is the direction we need to be going in,” Meyer said. “More importantly, it says to Democrats: You can’t call yourself a progressive on climate issues if you’re supporting fracking.”

Hogan’s announcement took fracking opponents by surprise. Advocates have been rallying for the fracking ban all session. About a dozen, including Tidwell, were arrested Thursday morning during a demonstration at the State House.

Indeed, it’s hard to understate the significance of Hogan’s move. At a moment when the federal government seems to be pulling back from environmental protection in a significant way, Maryland’s progress is another signal that the real action is shifting towards the statehouses. But perhaps more importantly, Hogan’s conversion is also more proof that the original arguments for fracking are fading away in the face of the real-world evidence that drilling has scarred the natural environment while polluting our air and water. Here’s hoping that more states — even other states with Republican governors — follow the lead of Larry Hogan and Maryland.

Read more about Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement of support for a fracking ban from the Baltimore Sun: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-hogan-fracking-ban-20170317-story.html

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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