Under Hillary’s Energy Plan, Communities of Color Would Be Fracked Over
Hillary Clinton has a new plan for fracked gas in America entitled, “Hillary Clinton’s Plan for Ensuring Safe and Responsible Natural Gas Production,” and it isn’t good. Increased extraction and use of a fossil fuel that’s known for it’s epic, months-long leaks and is 80 times more potent a global warming pollutant than Carbon Dioxide isn’t leadership, it’s a climate catastrophe. And it highlights the concern that, once again, candidates running for our highest office are treating Black and Brown issues as the flavor of the month, instead of investing in a steady diet of climate justice and “keep it in the ground” policies that protect and empower these communities perpetually. Let me explain:
The Myth of Ensuring Safe Natural Gas Production
A closer look at Secretary Clinton’s Natural Gas Production plan should raise questions, if not alarms, to everyone concerned about climate change, including, most especially, the low-wealth/communities of color who see disproportionate impacts from climate chaos. Clinton’s platform makes the un-deliverable promise that she “will ensure safe and responsible natural gas production as we move towards a clean energy future.” This statement, 17 words in total, is the soul of her mis-leading — we cannot move towards a clean energy future by extracting a fossil fuel that is 80 times more potent at polluting our climate than carbon dioxide. The idea itself reminds me of my favorite Jamiroquai album entitled, “Traveling Without Moving.”
Some additional highlights, or more appropriately, low-lights of Clinton’s plan include:
- Work with states utilizing natural gas generation and support infrastructure to reduce carbon pollution
- Provide financing tools for new natural gas pipeline investment that supports these objectives;
- Accelerate the deployment of high efficiency natural gas-fueled trucks, buses, ships, and trains to dramatically reduce local air pollution and improve public health;
- Increase public R&D in renewable natural gas and other solutions to deliver low-carbon gas to buildings, industry, trucks and ships through our existing pipeline network and drive new technologies to capture and sequester CO2 emissions from natural gas-fired power plants; and
- Ensure new natural gas pipelines are built to the highest standards and repair or replace thousands of leaky pipes by the end of her first term.
At a time when scientists are telling us that we must leave 80 percent of fossil fuels in the ground to avert the worst case scenarios of climate catastrophe, Clinton’s platform is the antithesis of the “Leave It In The Ground” Manifesto. Further, it would increase investments in fracked-gas infrastructure instead of a renewable energy revolution. To choose to plow countless dollars and jobs into building a new generation of pipelines and export terminals, when the clean energy economy is already creating more jobs than the fossil fuel industry is ridiculous.
Clinton’s plan even considers technologies like carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), a long-since unproven technology with no future in a global warming action plan. We need to vastly reduce the amount of global warming pollution we produce, not invest in technology that doesn’t work and can only be used by our worst polluters. Further, we all know, based on our country’s legacy of targeting Black and Brown communities for the placement of toxic waste, where CCS facilities would likely be situated — certainly not communities like Chappaqua, NY.
It’s Communities of Color Who Would Be Fracked Over
Now that the race for the presidential has shifted to states where Black and Brown voters make up a significant portion of the electorate, candidates who covet these voters are attempting to highlight why their policy platforms would be better. In addition to wealth and income inequality, criminal justice and immigration reform, and a broken education system, many candidates have also been quick to call out the legacy of environmental racism.
I’ve said before that Flint, Michigan is a snapshot of situations in Black and Brown communities nationwide. And I’ve applauded that Secretary Clinton visited Flint to discus lead pollution, and later in Harlem where she laid out bold policies to address racial injustice.
But those past opportunities make it doubly disappointing to see her now support hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” We all know this process requires the injection of chemicals, sand and water deep underground with sufficient pressure to shatter bedrock and unlock tiny pockets of gas or oil. Those same chemicals have been proven to harm developmental and reproductive health, and can leak into our drinking water aquifers as well as the deplete local freshwater supplies in the process. But we also know that low-wealth/communities of color, including our sisters and brothers on tribal lands, bear the brunt of fracking’s impacts. Our friends at NRDC released an excellent report, Drilling In California: Who’s At Risk in 2014. Therein, they reveal that in California alone, of the 5.4 million people living within one mile of fracking activities, 90 percent are people of color. Additionally, Grist.org revealed that fracking waste and wastewater are disproportionately situated in communities of color, which has perilous implications for their drinking water supplies.
Thanks to the excellent reporting of EcoWatch, we’ve learned about the heavy burden experienced by tribal nations due to fracking in North Dakota. The extreme form of extraction has resulted in lasting effects to not only their use of the land, but to their very culture. Not to mention the issue of broken treaties that have cheated tribes out of sums as high as $1 billion.
It’s not just local communities worried about water contamination either – Climate Change is a global problem whose effects are felt first and worst by communities of color and indigenous peoples around the world. The United States is the leading producer of natural gas globally, and given the very leaky nature of our gas transport and shipping systems, that makes fracked gas transport and export a major source of the US’ global warming pollution. Coupled with the fact that the Natural Gas Act requires expedited exports of natural gas to countries we have trade agreements with, Clinton’s plan to increase local production of fracked gas could have dire implications for indigenous communities from South America to Asia as well as communities of color on the entire African continent.
Conclusion — It’s The Environment, Stupid
Clinton is clearly courting the black and brown vote. But her policy proposal on fracked gas is an example of what Steve Phillips warns against in his new book, “Brown is the New White” — policies that seem to have been drafted to appeal to so-called, “White Swing Voters,” as opposed to the progressive majority made up of people of color and White progressives. In the book he writes, “By focusing so much of their time, attention and resources on White swing voters, Democrats neglected and ignored the very voters who elected them in the first place in 2008 and 2012 — the multiracial New American Majority. After being overlooked and under-appreciated, large numbers of these voters were uninspired and disaffected by the campaigns of Democrats in the midterms and stayed home in 2010 and 2014, resulting in crushing defeats of Democrats and the loss of both houses of Congress.”
Clinton must explain why she decried the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water on one day, and released a policy platform that would poison our water, air and climate with fracking on the next. This is exactly why Environmental Action has joined with many other organizations including Color of Change, Indigenous Environmental Network, Honor the Earth, 350.0rg, Daily Kos and many other to demand that DNC and Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz sanction the Flint Debate on March 6th to focus solely on Environmental and Climate Justice. All voters have a right to know how policies like Clinton’s will affect their communities, and the Flint debate is the perfect forum to address these issues and impacts lasting for generations.