Here’s a story about the power of independent, outside movements to advance policy arguments. The story about fracking in New York was that it would simply happen, without much resistance from the state government. The special interests were too powerful, there was too much money at stake. In fact, nationally, the fracking boom is key to state and national economies, offering a counterweight to the impact of GDP growth on increasing energy prices (which usually immediately stunts that growth). So the idea that anymore could stop this slow march to a fracked America was dubious.
Nevertheless, a series of grassroots groups gave it a try anyway. They had personal stories to tell about contaminated drinking water and the ability to light on fire the liquid coming out of their faucets. They built organizational power. And they knew how to pull the right levers to make themselves heard. New York was a key state for this, not only because of the amount of natural gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale region of the state, but because Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to position himself as a national leader. And after months of persistent work, they may be on the verge of a victory that at one point looked unthinkable.
A few months after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was poised to approve hydraulic fracturing in several struggling New York counties, his administration is reversing course and starting the regulatory process over, garnering praise from environmental groups and stirring anger among industry executives and upstate landowners.
Ten days ago, after nearly four years of review by state regulators, the governor bowed to entreaties from environmentalists to conduct another study, this one an examination of potential impacts on public health. Neither the governor nor other state officials have given any indication of how long the study might take.
Then on Friday, state environmental officials said they would restart the regulatory rule-making process, requiring them to repeat a number of formal steps, including holding a public hearing, and almost certainly pushing a decision into next year [...]
The developments have created a sense in Albany that Mr. Cuomo is consigning fracking to oblivion. The governor has been influenced by the unshakable opposition from a corps of environmentalists and celebrity activists who are concerned about the safety of the water supply. The opponents include a number of people close to the governor, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a longtime environmental activist in New York whose sister is the governor’s ex-wife.
Cuomo did not have the political room to despoil his state through approving new fracking sites. He may just be buying time, hoping the heat subsides so he can make the decision next year. And that speaks to the need for constant education and organizing at the grassroots level. But a year ago, you would be surprised if I told you that New York would hold off on approval.
There has not been sustained victory on this front across the country. There remain no regulations on fracking whatsoever in California, for example, after a bill died in the legislature this year. The state doesn’t even know, and has no way of finding out, how much fracking is happening in the state. But New York has been the region where the battle has been the most engaged, and so this victory, however, temporary, signals the winnable nature of the fight.
Andrew Cuomo is nobody’s idea of a forthright liberal. He makes decisions, as most politicians do, based on the political winds. The anti-fracking movement in New York forced him into this posture. They cut off his options. That’s how political power gets built from the outside, and it’s as important as anything that happens inside a state or national capital.