Author Donates Heinz Award to Launch New Yorkers Against Fracking
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
By Press Action
Acclaimed author Sandra Steingraber is providing the seed money for a new coalition formed to stop shale gas drilling in New York state.
The coalition, New Yorkers Against Fracking, kicked off its coordinated grassroots strategy today with a call-in day to ban fracking in the state. “We must send a powerful response about the fracking industry’s false promises and hidden costs,” the coalition said. “We need to demand that Gov. Cuomo support a ban on fracking!”
Founding members of New Yorkers Against Fracking include Citizen Action of New York, New York State Breast Cancer Network, Food & Water Watch, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Frack Action, Water Defense, Frack-Free Catskills, Fingerlakes Clean Waters Initiative and many more.
Steingraber, a recent winner of the Heinz Award for her life’s work, is donating a significant portion of her $100,000 award to help prevent fracking in New York.
“Fracking turns fresh water into poison. It fills our air with smog, our roadways with 18-wheelers hauling hazardous materials, and our fields and pastures with pipelines and toxic pits,” Steingraber said in a statement. “I am devoting my Heinz Award to the fight against hydrofracking in New York because as a mother, there is no more important investment that I could make right now than to support the fight for the integrity of the ecological system that makes their lives possible.”
Along with launching the anti-fracking group, Steingraber recently announced she is “breaking up” with the Sierra Club over the environmental group’s decision to accept more than $25 million in shale gas money, mostly from Chesapeake Energy.
In a letter to the Sierra Club, posted on the Orion Magazine website on March 23, Steingraber, author of Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, said she would be removing the Sierra Club’s endorsement—the group in 1999 called her “the new Rachel Carson—from her website.
“The Sierra Club had taken money, gobs of it, from an industry that we in the grassroots have been in the fight of our lives to oppose,” said Steingraber, who lives in New York with her husband and two children. “The largest, most venerable environmental organization in the United States secretly aligned with the very company that seeks to occupy our land, turn it inside out, blow it apart, fill it with poison.”
As a result of the dedication of grassroots activists and the determination of local officials, New York has seen a surge of local fracking bans enacted across the state. Overall, 82 towns and six counties have enacted bans or moratoria in New York state. Seventy-one municipalities are also considering or staging a ban or moratorium. In the past few weeks, Buffalo and Niagara Falls both passed resolutions calling for Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to pass a statewide ban on fracking.
Since acknowledging receiving money from the shale gas industry, the Sierra Club appears to be trying to demonstrate its anti-fracking bona fides. On March 25, USA Today published an op-ed by Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune who said “the natural gas industry that we know today is dirty, dangerous and putting American families at risk.”
“Given the lack of effective oversight for this industry run amok, federal and state agencies need to take a hard look at the risks natural gas fracking poses to our health and communities,” Brune wrote in the op-ed. “It’s time for everyone to stop thinking of natural gas as a ‘kinder, gentler’ energy source and renew our focus on reaching a clean energy future as soon as possible.”
These are pretty strong words coming from an organization that previously touted natural gas as a clean-burning bridge fuel to a sustainable energy future. But given its track record as a corporate-backed reformist group and reliable supporter of the Democratic Party, one shouldn’t get too excited by Brune’s op-ed.
When Brune admitted to a Time magazine reporter that the Sierra Club had “clandestinely accepted” the millions of dollars from Chesapeake Energy, the declaration “seemed less an acknowledgement of wrongdoing than an attempt to minister to a looming public relations problem,” Steingraber wrote. “Would someone truly interested in atonement seek credit for choosing not to take additional millions of gas industry dollars?”
Through the years, the Sierra Club has gained the respect of business groups because it accepts the premise of endless growth and industrialization. The Sierra Club and its fellow Big Green groups pursue a policy of practical engagement with some of the biggest polluters in Corporate America. It is small, grass-roots organizations, not the Sierra Club and other Big Group groups, that have been the driving force against shale gas drilling in New York and Pennsylvania.
As top officials with the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council were meeting with energy industry officials to discuss natural gas’ optimum role in a “high-energy/low carbon future,” grassroots activists were in the fight of their lives to oppose shale gas drilling across the country.
As Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of NRDC’s energy program, was rejoicing in the abundance of natural gas reserves in shale plays across the United States, officials in municipalities across Pennsylvania and New York were passing ordinances to ban natural gas drilling within their town limits to protect the health of the local residents and the environment.
As the Sierra Club was clandestinely accepting $26 million from Chesapeake Energy-affiliated individuals and subsidiaries, activists in the gas patch were raising awareness about the impact of natural gas industry activities on human health and the health of the natural world.
The national Sierra Club “served as the political cover for the gas industry and for the politicians who take their money and do their bidding,” Steingraber said. “It had a hand in setting in motion the wheels of environmental destruction and human suffering,” she said. “It was complicit in bringing extreme fossil fuel extraction onshore, into our communities, farmlands, and forests, and in blowing up the bedrock of our nation. And I can’t get over it.”