Environmentalist wrestles with John Fetterman’s views on fracking
I admit it: I am a believer. I believe that climate change is the existential issue of our time. Ultimately, this will affect all living organisms on the planet. If we continue to pollute the air, poison the water, warm the oceans and decimate the forests, our communities, our way of life and the natural world as we know it will be altered beyond recognition.
In November, voters in Pennsylvania will elect a new US senator. We have the choice between a Democrat, John Fetterman, and his Republican challenger, the famous doctor Mehmet Oz. Although Fetterman’s environmental policies are flawed, in this case I subscribe to the axiom: “Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
My ideal candidate would put climate change at the top of his platform, demand an end to fracking, advocate for increased regulation of industries dumping pollutants into our air and water, and promise to introduce legislation to align our countries on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Unfortunately, my ideal candidate does not exist. But if the past is prologue, I have more faith in Fetterman’s willingness to recognize science and support sensible climate policy than anyone running on a Republican platform that pledges to support “energy independence nationhood and self-reliance through intellectual development and regulatory reform”. Translation: “Drill, baby, drill” – and allow the polluters to continue polluting.
Although Pennsylvania has made strides in improving air and water quality, hydraulic fracturing continues to be an environmental flaw (pun intended). This process of extracting natural gas from shale uses huge amounts of water, disrupts the natural environment, contributes to air pollution and helps sustain an archaic fossil fuel industry at a time when the world is turning to alternative energy sources. Although marginally beneficial to the economy in parts of rural Pennsylvania, fracking is problematic statewide, particularly because Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not tax oil and gas companies for fracking. extraction of natural resources. So when the wells run out and the gas companies leave (as they do now), local communities and the state end up with the cleanup bill.
Fetterman’s position on hydraulic fracturing is not ideal. In 2006, he started his first Senate race by supporting a moratorium on fracking new wells. However, faced with opposition from unionized workers who feared that no new wells would mean fewer jobs, Fetterman softened his objections. He said if Pennsylvania instituted a mining tax and imposed stricter environmental regulations, he would withdraw his objection to the development of new wells. None of these policy changes were ever passed by the state legislature. This year, Fetterman said he thinks there will be a “de facto” moratorium on fracking as the state and nation move toward renewable energy sources.
Why should someone concerned about climate change support a candidate who refuses to unplug fracking? First, fracking is just one of many environmental problems we face, and the solutions to each are science-based. It’s no secret that over the past decade, Republican lawmakers have downplayed the importance of science and education, spread misinformation about public health measures, and promoted unproven treatments for the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Trump administration, officials have even denied the reality of climate change, going so far as to ban the Department of Energy’s climate office from using the term “climate change” in official reports.
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Second, Fetterman has publicly stated that “climate change is an existential threat.” Oz has given no indication that he understands the gravity of our current environmental challenges, or that the window to prevent climate catastrophe is rapidly closing. He called for increased oil and coal production as a solution to energy independence regardless of their climate consequences.
Senators must represent their states while listening to what is best for the nation as a whole. From his 14 years as mayor of a small town in Rust Belt, Fetterman has been keenly aware of the excessive burden that industrial pollution and toxic waste place on underprivileged communities. He was able to see how closely environmental and economic issues are intertwined. And although I am an environmentalist, I am also a realist.
Pennsylvania is a deeply divided state. The last thing we need is another senator ignoring the inequalities that exist in communities of color. I met Fetterman, I watched him interact with his audience. He has universal appeal, he feels “real,” he has a story to tell, and his larger-than-life personality will capture the attention of more voters than a traditional Democrat.
The only way to break the hold that minority opinions have on our nation’s environmental laws is to ensure that proponents of sound energy policy and strong environmental protections have the 60 votes needed to invoke closure and present legislation in the Senate. I hope John Fetterman will be a strong voice in the chorus calling for change.
Susan Gordon is a former public relations manager, freelance journalist, and longtime resident of Bucks and Montgomery counties.