July 28, 2014

Fracking moratorium blocked in Senate

Don't Frack California Oakland rally (last year).

Don’t Frack California Oakland rally (last year).

On May 29 the fracking moratorium bill, SB 1132 (Mitchell and Leno-see “SB 1132 would halt fracking in California“), failed on the California Senate floor. It had failed yesterday by a vote of 18 – 16, with several key senators abstaining. We had hoped to be able to pick up some of those abstaining senators today, but instead, we lost two votes. Sen. Jerry Hill did not vote and we have learned from another senator that Hill was involved in another legislative matter when the vote came up (it was a very weird and confusing day in the Senate) and totally missed it.

Also, Sen. Marty Block, from San Diego, abstained. I talked to Sen. Block after the vote, and he said that he didn’t vote for the bill this time (he had voted for it yesterday) because the bill didn’t have the votes to get out. He also said that “things change” and didn’t explain what he meant by that. Notably, the California Building Trades Council came out in opposition to the bill late yesterday with no warning to any of the environmental groups working on the bill. Sen. Block is very sensitive to labor issues.

So, ultimate vote: 16 yes votes, 16 no votes, with Sens. Ricardo Lara, Ben Hueso, amd Richard Roth abstaining, along with Block and Hill. The only Democrats voting no were senators Norma Torres (currently running for Congress), Ed Hernandez, Lou Correa (termed out this year) and Cathleen Galgiani. All the Republicans voted against the bill, and three Democratic senators are on suspension and so didn’t have the opportunity to vote (Ron Calderon, Rod Wright, and Leland Yee).

Now here’s the good news: we got this bill farther in the process than we ever predicted six months ago. When we began the effort to do a moratorium bill this year, in conjunction with a lot of environmental and environmental-justice allied groups, we didn’t even know if we’d find an author. But we knew we needed to help the environmental community recapture the fracking debate in the Capitol and prove that the environmental community could be united and work effectively to keep the pressure on to halt harmful and extreme oil-extraction methods in the state.

We have more than succeeded. Our coalition found a great pair of joint authors in Sens. Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno. Sen. Mitchell and her staff took the lead position and did an outstanding job shepherding the bill. Meanwhile, the environmental and environmental-justice communities bound together and helped craft a bill we could all support. Indeed, we were able to craft a bill that brought on support from organized labor, many businesses and business associations, various health and community groups, elected officials around the state, and so on.

The bill drew local, state and national attention. News outlets across the country ran stories mentioning it, and the Los Angeles Times ran two editorials supporting it. The bill certainly wasn’t the only thing that has increased public education about the hazards of fracking and well stimulation in California, but it helped.

It did, ultimately, allow the public interest–not the oil industry interest–to recapture the debate about fracking in the legislature.

Today, we had about 10 environmental lobbyists (three from the Club) and three labor lobbyists (thanks to SEIU and CWA), plus a labor strategist, in the Capitol working the bill. Around the state, we had a lot of staff organizers and volunteer organizers, including two Club organizers, helping get the word to get calls into key offices. Over the last many months, our volunteers and staff all around the state have sent out e-mail blasts, tweeted, posted action alerts on FaceBook, and organized rallies to make sure the legislature knew where the public stood on fracking.

Thank you to every one of you who has helped in some way to elevate the fracking issue at the local and state and national level. Now that the bill is done for this year, Sierra Club California’s work on fracking will focus on helping put a spotlight on the governor’s role and ability to place a moratorium on fracking, supporting local chapters’ engagement in local moratorium and ban initiatives, and increasing our public education and outreach work on fracking and other extreme extraction methods.

So fasten your seat belt and get ready for more fast and exciting rides as we work together to halt extreme oil extraction in California and whittle away at Big Oil’s influence.

Kathryn Phillips, director, Sierra Club California

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