Sam Schabacker, an organizer with Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, arranging media coverage of a small rally in Denver today to reboot the group’s campaign for a statewide oil and gas development ban.
Washington, D.C-based political activist group Food & Water Watch once again rebooted its campaign for a statewide oil and gas development ban today under the new banner of “Coloradans Against Fracking.” It’s the latest rebranding of an environmental campaign that’s so extreme it attacks other environmentalists for not being extreme enough.
Food & Water Watch’s goal hasn’t changed: A statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing,which would effectively ban oil and gas drilling in Colorado. But the newly branded effort – launched with a small rally of about two dozen protestors – underscores how opposition to energy production in Colorado is being driven largely by a single national political group that does not believe in tighter energy regulations, only energy bans.
According to The Colorado Statesman, Food & Water Watch is one of the “major players behind the anti-fracking movement” in our state and “played a key role in supporting initiatives to ban or delay fracking in local communities” in Colorado, starting with Longmont in 2012. Food & Water Watch was also behind the creation of statewide groups such as Frack Free Colorado, Protect Our Colorado and Local Control Colorado as it tried to put a local face on the group’s national agenda. According to Food & Water Watch, that agenda is a national ban on fracking, because the group believes “fracking is inherently unsafe” and “no amount of regulations can ever make fracking safe.”
This is an extreme position that puts Food & Water Watch at odds with other environmentalists, environmental regulators inside the Obama administration and state-level environmental regulators across the country. This is perhaps unsurprising, since Food & Water Watch was formed 10 years ago as a breakaway group from Public Citizen, the activist organization founded by Ralph Nader.
For example, here is what the group said in 2012 about the Environmental Defense Fund:
“[T]he fracking activist community is shocked that you received $6 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to advocate for fracking regulations. And we aren’t going to stand for it.
EDF says that they’ll be working for “responsible” regulation in 14 states. Of course, this is a just double speak that means swooping into states where there is a strong grassroots movement against fracking and shilling for the oil and gas industry.”
Food & Water Watch has even accused President Obama and the environmentalists who work in their administration of pushing “the special interests of the oil and gas industry,” just because they refused to endorse the fringe “ban fracking” agenda. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell – who served on the board of a national environmental group and as the CEO of outdoor retailer REI before becoming the nation’s top energy regulator for federal lands – was even accused by the group of “touting fracking propaganda” when she told a California public radio station that oil and gas bans are “the wrong way to go.”
Even as Jewell has pressed for tougher regulations, she has noted “fracking has been done safely for decades” and offered a stinging rebuke to the political ideology of Food & Water Watch and other “ban fracking groups:
““I know there are those who say fracking is dangerous and should be curtailed, full stop. That ignores the reality that it has been done for decades and has the potential for developing significant domestic resources and strengthening our economy and will be done for decades to come.”
Food & Water Watch also attacks state-level environmental regulators and any elected official who relies on their advice. For example, California regulators refused to cave into group’s demands for after concluding the technology had been used in the Golden State “for more than 30 years with no reported damage to the environment.” California Jerry Brown (D) stood by the state’s experts in geology and engineering and called for a decision-making process “based on science and common sense” and free of “ideological bandwagons.”
Gov. Brown is one of the nation’s most celebrated environmentalists who repeatedly clashed with the oil and gas industry over his long political career. But based on Food & Water Watch’s own account of a confrontation between one of its activists and Gov. Brown, even he thinks “ban fracking” groups are too extreme:
“Before I made my way off of the airplane, I took the opportunity to have a short chat with our governor from an empty seat across the aisle. …
Brown immediately put up a wall and went on the defensive: ‘that’s not true,’ he told me. ‘Fracking can be done safely and has been happening here for 60 years.’ And, ‘what do you want to do? Ship in all this oil from Saudi Arabia instead?’”
Elsewhere, Brown has put it more bluntly, saying anti-fracking activists “don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
You can find a few more examples of state- and federal-level regulators rejecting the politically charged talking points of “ban fracking groups here. These statements reflect the reality that anti-fracking groups like Food & Water Watch refuse to accept: The oil and gas industry isn’t perfect – no industry is – but it is safe and tightly regulated under an interlocking set of state and federal environmental laws and the regulations issued pursuant to those laws. There is always room for debate over the best ways to regulate one of the state’s mainstay industries, but demanding a blanket ban is just too extreme for Colorado.
Last year, when two ballot initiatives were proposed to widen setbacks and legalize local energy bans last year, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) joined with a broad bipartisan coalition – including almost the entire Colorado business community – in opposing those measures. The coalition was so broad and so deep – reflecting the tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in state and local tax revenues supported by the oil and gas industry in Colorado – that Boulder Congressman Jared Polis (D) agreed to pull down the measures in exchange for the creation of the oil and gas task force.
Gov. Hickenlooper called last year’s initiatives “radical” and “extreme measures that would drive oil and gas out of Colorado,” and according to the Associated Press, Food & Water Watch now wants to put a blanket statewide ban on the ballot in 2016. If last year’s measures were considered “radical” and “extreme” by a bipartisan coalition led by the governor, that should tell the citizens of Colorado something about the fringe ideology that fuels all the campaigns Food & Water Watch has been running in our state for years.