How Will the Midterms Affect Climate Change & Fracking Policy?
Daphne Wysham from the Center for Sustainable Economy says a Republican- controlled Senate will be a climate disaster, while Steve Horn from DeSmogBlog says the fracking industry is outspending activists in order to thwart anti-fracking ballot initiatives
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Anti-fracking ballot measures are front-and-center in this election. F rom California to Ohio, and even the Lone Star state of Texas, voters are deciding on banning fracking in the backyards. This comes on the heels of a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is the most authoritative international body on climate issues. And the verdict is out. Again, there is no doubt climate change is happening and it is linked to human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels like natural gas.
But if Republicans take over Congress or Democrats retain control of the Senate, will anything be done about it? And what do these local ballot initiatives tell about the future of environmental activism in America?
Now joining us to help us unpack these issues are our two guests.
Daphne Wysham is a climate policy fellow at the Center for Sustainable Economy and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, and she joins us from Portland, Oregon.
Also joining us, from Madison, Wisconsin, is Steve Horn. Steve is a journalist whose work has been featured in The Guardian, The Nation, and Truthout. He’s also a research fellow at DeSmogBlog.
Thank you both for joining us.
DAPHNE WYSHAM, FELLOW, CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE ECONOMY: Thank you.
STEVE HORN, RESEARCH FELLOW, DESMOGBLOG: Thanks for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Steve, let’s start off with you. The ballot initiatives–I know you’ve been tracking that quite closely. Let’s take a look at the one that’s happening in the city of Denton, Texas. People think of Texas as being very pro-fossil fuels, sort of like this “drill, baby, drill” kind of mentality. How did this measure even get on the ballot in the first place?
HORN: Well, I think it’s important for people to realize that the Denton initiative came about because it’s the legacy of the tar sands blockade. It’s a lot of the same activists who are working on that blockade movement that started back in 2012 are now based in Denton, Texas, and helped get this on the ballot. And there’s a really good article about this on Truthout out by their editor/reporter, Candace Bernd, and she writes about the entire history of kind of how it ended up getting on the ballot. And what’s really fascinating is that Denton is in the heart and soul of the Barnett Shale, the Barnett Shale being really the birthplace of the United States fracking boom, the place were George Mitchell, known as the pioneer of fracking, started fracking his first wells, basically, sample wells almost ten years ago, over ten years ago. And so we’re talking about the place where fracking was really born in the United States now today voting on what could possibly the first ban in a city in the state of Texas. So it’s a pretty remarkable story just because of that.
Another remarkable element of it is just how much money the industry is spending to ensure that–or at least they hope to ensure that the activists who put this on the ballot don’t win. They’ve outspent activists about ten to one. As of the last count, the activists who got this on the last ballot have spent $70,000, while the industry has spent upwards of $700,000. And I’m sure since then the numbers have gone up, probably especially on the industry side. So it’s a really fascinating tale in Denton, Texas.
DESVARIEUX: And it’s quite remarkable that it’s even that close, because the counterargument always comes down to jobs, right?
And now, Daphne, what’s problematic about the rhetoric is that gas and oil industries say that they are job creators. What are the real numbers, though? And is it really that black and white? Is it either we have jobs or we have to choose between that or reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
WYSHAM: Well, I think there are a variety of issues and we need to look at not just the jobs issue, and even there, the numbers have been padded somewhat according to some studies. One person running for office in Pennsylvania claimed that 170,000 jobs would be created as a result of fracking. But when you look closer, as the government of Pennsylvania did, they found closer to 30,000 jobs, because these are jobs that are directly related to the actual natural gas pipeline work in Pennsylvania, not the associated jobs.
But I think this is a problematic frame, because we’re essentially saying it’s either going to be the natural gas industry that’s going to be providing the jobs, or there will be no jobs, which is just a false dichotomy. I mean, we could have an enormous quantity of jobs if we pursued something like a green New Deal that has been proposed by various politicians that would essentially put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work retrofitting buildings, making sure they’re energy efficient, moving us towards the green energy future that we know we need to and that science tells us–I mean, the IPCC report suggests we have to reduce emissions by 40 to 70 percent between 2010 and 2050. That’s a dramatic drop. And then to zero by 2100. Now, these are the numbers that the fossil fuel industry wants us to ignore. But if we do ignore these numbers, we’re on track to essentially about an 11 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, 3 to 4 degree Celsius rise by 2100, which would be catastrophic.
DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And I’m glad you mentioned the fossil fuel industry, because they’ve really been behind pushing for this sort of pro-fracking position and pumped a lot of money into these campaigns. So, Steve, I want to turn back to you, because I want to get a sense of who’s really behind pushing for this pro-fracking position. I read in one of your reports Timothy Gardner has a stake in this.
HORN: Well, so right now, right after the elections, I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot about the Keystone XL pipeline, especially if the GOP wins the Senate or has control of the Senate and the House. We already heard it a lot even without them controlling both chambers. So here renewed talk about the Keystone XL, the one thing that I recently discovered just from doing some research is that MEG Energy is a company that is–it’s a tar sands producer, first of all, in Alberta. But second of all, they’re seeking to export tar sands down in the Gulf Coast. As lots of activists have pointed out, Keystone XL is very likely and predominantly an export pipeline. MEG Energy would be a company looking to profit from exporting that tar sands product. And lo and behold, Timothy Geithner, he works now at Warburg Pincus as the president, and Warburg Pincus owns a large portion MEG Energy as part of its investment portfolio, Warburg Pincus being the Wall Street, massive, private equity firm featured in the documentary film Big Men. So this is just kind of a continuation, sort of, of what a lot of people have already been looking into, and that is lots of the sort of corruption and cronyism that has been involved in the approval process of the Keystone XL since day one, when TransCanada attempted to push it through, back when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, now going through Secretary John Kerry–lots of inside dealing and lots of stuff that just smells corrupt.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s switch gears a bit. You mentioned smelling corrupt. Let’s talk about the Senate race. We don’t have final numbers out yet on whether or not the Republicans have taken over the Senate, but we can talk about the possibility.
So, Daphne, let’s talk about what would happen to climate change policy if Republicans gained control of the Senate. What would we see happen?
WYSHAM: Boy, it would be tough days for those folks who really want to see climate action. We would have Senator James Inhofe, who would be–he’s in line to take over for the Environment and Public Works Committee, and which would give him authority over the Environmental Protection Agency. He has compared climate change activists to Nazis. He has said he will go after Obama’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, from coal-fired power plants. And he’s also opposed to any restrictions on methane leakage from natural gas fracking. He is essentially cut from the same cloth as these other climate deniers who believe this is some vast conspiracy. I’m not clear on where they think the conspiracy is headed, but some vast conspiracy that has all of the world’s scientific bodies duped by this grand hoax. So that’s just Senator Inhofe.
Then there’s, of course, Mitch McConnell, who is–we already know that he’s anti-action on climate change. He tried to block the EPA from regulating fossil fuels in electric power plants.
And in terms of the Subcommittee on Science and Space, right now Senator Ted Cruz from Texas has a good shot of taking over that committee, which would have authority over the National Science Foundation, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. And essentially he is another one of these climate deniers claiming that the data is not conclusive. And, of course, that’s what the IPCC has just said again, that it is very conclusive.
And then, finally, for Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Ron Johnson has a history of going after climate scientists. And this committee would be the chief investigative arm of the Senate oversight body, looking in on, for example, how government-paid scientists like former NASA top climate scientist James Hansen are performing their jobs.
So this just gives you an initial taste. It gets worse when you begin looking in at other committees, but those are some of the worst potential leaders of these committees moving forward if the Republicans do take control of the Senate.
DESVARIEUX: And if Democrats retain control, I think a big part of this story has to come down to campaign cash. And what we’ve seen, according to OpenSecrets.org, is that there’s just so much cash being flooded into these midterm elections–its record-breaking numbers here. And especially when it comes to climate change, we’ve seen billionaire Tom Steyer, he spent $57 million on climate change.
So, Steve, I want to ask you: this election, did we actually see more Democrats doing something about climate change because now there’s sort of this carrot in front of them, this campaign cash coming from billionaires like Tom Steyer?
HORN: Well, I think that remains to be seen, to be honest. In the case of Colorado, I think it’s a really important crucible here. We’re looking at the Senate race between Cory Gardner and Senator Udall, the incumbent. Both of them–Gardner was a U.S. representative before–both of them introduced a bill earlier this year to expedite permitting liquefied natural gas exports–for fracked gas going to the global market, for example. So we’re looking at–that’s one race that Steyer has put a lot of money into. And, unfortunately, neither of them are exactly–Udall has not been a champion of environmental issues, at least in the fracking area. And Colorado, just at large, to speak to what we started talking about, that was a state that was supposed to have a ballot initiative, where they’re going to be voting on whether or not fracking could take place closer than 2,000 feet to people’s homes. And that was actually taken off the ballot because of pressure from both sides, so pressure from the conservative side, from a guy by the name of Rick Berman, who’s been in the news a lot because of a speech he gave back in the summer, and the audio was leaked, and The New York Times reported on it. But also there was an article in The Boulder Weekly that talks about how a lot of corporate liberal types, corporate Democrats, pressured that ballot initiative from getting on the ballot because they thought that it would split the ticket for Democratic votes.
So Colorado, it’s very troubling situation. And what I really–I hope that for the sake of the planet that that’s not what the rest of the states look like. But if you look at Colorado, it’s not exactly the most promising. But that said, it still remains to be seen.
WYSHAM: I just want to say that I heard that Tom Udall, [who] has a record of taking a strong stand on climate change, is expected to win. We’ve also seen Tom Steyer putting some money in the races in Oregon and Washington, and those races look like they’re going to be victorious for people that have taken strong stands on climate change, including Senator Merkley.
And there is–the problem is that we really haven’t seen a very well organized strategy around getting out the climate vote. Even though when people are polled they overwhelmingly want to see action on climate change, what we aren’t hearing about in this election is just how important this is to people. Instead, we’re hearing about Obamacare, which the Republicans have essentially given up on trying to overturn, and portraying the president as somebody to run away from, though he has been, by some counts, one of the most effective presidents on a number of levels.
And there is one coalition, one group, called Climate Hawks Vote, that is having some effect in putting pressure on groups to actually–going door-to-door and doing sort of the hard work of getting out the vote, specifically focused on climate change issues.
But I think that’s an issue that groups across the country need to start thinking about, is how can we mobilize people around this climate-change issue.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. We’ll certainly keep on asking that question here at The Real News as well.
Daphne Wysham and Steve Horn, thank you both for joining us.
WYSHAM: Thank you.
HORN: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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