President Obama’s welcome on his trip to Pennsylvania and New York this week may not be as warm as he’d hoped. Anti-fracking citizens in both states, dismayed at the President’s decision to embrace natural gas development as a major energy priority, plan to protest his visit to shale country. They join a growing number of Americans living in the gas industry’s path with real and substantial concerns about what the President’s policies might mean for their future.
Although Americans concerned about climate change have rightfully applauded the President’s newly announced climate initiatives, especially his decision to set carbon standards for power plants, his strong endorsement of expanded domestic natural gas development has concerned some environmentalists and local citizens (as well as the editorial board of the Albany Times Union). This is particularly so in the face of the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent withdrawal from three high-profile, potentially precedential, investigations related to alleged drinking water contamination from fracking, which raises red flags about the seriousness with which the Administration is taking its on-going study of fracking’s risks. Determined to ensure the President understands these concerns, activists across Pennsylvania and New York plan to make their voices heard at each stop along the President’s journey.
Several grassroots environmental groups are involved, with New Yorkers Against Fracking organizing the New York protests. Isaac Silberman-Gorn, an activist with Citizen Action and a member of New Yorkers Against Fracking, pledged: “we will chase him around the state.” “He’s promised all of these great things for climate change,” says Silberman-Gorn, “but he’s pushing a plan that is really at odds with that.” A spokesperson for New Yorkers Against Fracking, John Armstrong, hoped to “send a strong message to him and to all politicians that our health, environment and clean water are not for sale to the oil and gas industry and political influence.” Meanwhile, Food and Water Watch and Protecting Our Water are planning similar protests across the border in Pennsylvania.
The President’s trip will also highlight the continuing pressure from Governor Cuomo’s base to protect the state from fracking’s risks. The Governor reportedly decided not to join the President on his bus tour through hotbeds of anti-fracking sentiment including Binghamton and Syracuse, but will meet with the President in Buffalo. On Monday, in response to press inquiries, Governor Cuomo said he was no closer to reaching a decision on fracking, standing by his promise to hold his decision until Health Commission Nirav Shah’s health review is complete. We applaud the Governor’s continuing commitment to letting the science rule the day, and trust that his recent public statements indicate he will not allow the President’s visit to shake that resolve.
Both the Governor and the President should heed the messages being given this week. The people of Pennsylvania who are already living with fracking, and the people of New York who could face fracking in the future, deserve nothing less.