Good news and bad news from Tuesday’s election


I’ve said here repeatedly that the American people are slowly but steadily catching on to the risks of fracking, and they are making their voices heard. Increasingly, citizens are looking at the supposed benefits of gas drilling in their communities — royalty checks for some, perhaps cheaper has prices — and then looking at life with tainted air and dirty tap water, and concluding that it’s just not worth it.

That point was driven home with an exclamation point on Tuesday, when fracking appeared on the ballot in a number of localities across America, from coast to coast. For the most part, the results were a strong repudiation of the controversial drilling process. But what was most impressive was that this revolution isn’t just driven by leafy environmentalists from Pennsylvania or New York, not anymore. Check out this shocking election result from deep in the heart of Texas:

A North Texas town on Tuesday became the state’s first to ban hydraulic fracturing, setting up a high-profile property rights clash likely to be fought in courtrooms and the Legislature.

Nearly 59 percent of voters in Denton, which sits on the edge of gas-rich Barnett Shale, approved a measure banning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the method of oil and gas extraction that has led to a domestic energy boom.

Proponents called the measure a last-ditch effort to address noise and toxic fumes that spew from wells just beyond their backyards, after loopholes and previous zoning decisions rendered changes to the city’s drilling ordinance unenforceable.

“It means we don’t have to worry about what our kids are breathing at city playgrounds,” Cathy McMullen, a nurse and president of Frack Free Denton, a grassroots group that pushed the ban, said in a statement. “It means we don’t have to worry about our property value taking a nose dive because frackers set up shop 200 feet away.”

Big Oil and Gas is fighting back against this new ordinance — and others like it — with every weapon in their arsenal, and that’s no surprise. A citizen revolt is an existential threat to their business model, and these energy giants are eager to nip it in the bud. Unfortunately, the U.S. oil industry still has friends in high places — particularly in the corridors of Congress — and thanks to Tuesday’s Republican landslide, they have more of these friends than any time in recent memory.  While rank-and-file citizens like you and me rebel against fracking on the local level, their lobbyists are pushing national legislation that puts both our environment and our climate at risk.

Indeed, forcing the Keystone XL pipeline — which will ship dirty oil  from Canada’s tar sands right across the gut of America — down the public’s throat may be Agenda Item No. 1 for the new Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate:

Senate Republicans will charge ahead early in 2015 with a bill to approve the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, a move that would back President Barack Obama into a corner and set the tone for how the party taking control of Congress will govern the next two years.

The $8 billion project would deliver heavy Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to Nebraska and make it easier to deliver oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region to the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has languished for six years awaiting presidential approval, which is needed because the pipeline crosses a national border.

Legislation earlier this year to approve the pipeline in a proposed end-run around the administration already had an estimated 57 votes in the 100-member Senate, and is now thought to have a filibuster-proof 61 votes after Republican gains in Tuesday’s mid-term elections.

That’s not all. The GOP may also be emboldened to enact legislation aimed at blocking President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency from carrying out tougher new regulations on pollution from power plants — regs that are critical for stopping the slow, steady increase of greenhouse gases that are causing a global climate crisis. Despite the disappointing outcome on Tuesday, Obama is still the president for the next 26 months, and it’s critical that he stand firm on his environmental principles. The new majority still doesn’t have the votes to override a veto from Obama. So it’s critical that he wields his pen to say ‘no’ to these dangerous moves, and suppress any instincts to compromise. There’s no compromise when the future of the planet is what’s at stake.

Read the Texas Tribune for more information on the fracking ban passed in Denton:

Check out more from Reuters on the GOP’s scheme to make the Keystone XL pipeline a reality:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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