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How smart frackivists forced Cuomo to do the right thing

(NOTE: PA_lady posted a series on fracking in 2010; yes, Corrente was early!) The always excellent Albany Project has the triumph dance here:

t wasn't that long ago, say 2007 or so, when fracking was an issue that wasn't really on anyone's radar, though there was enough concern for the state to place a moratorium on the practice in 2008.

That began to change with the release of Josh Fox's "Gasland" documentary in 2010. That film brought the issue into focus for many people across the country and especially here in New York. ..

I've been convinced for quite some time that one of the reasons the industry was so anxious to get fracking in New York is that they knew that clock was ticking. While they could point across the Pennsylvania border and show how many jobs were being created by the boom in Marcellus Shale fracking, they knew that the reality would soon become plain. The fracking boom in Pennsylvania has indeed created lots of jobs, jobs the long left behind communities in New York's Southern Tier would desperately like to have.

But fracking has also wreaked havoc in the Pennsylvania countryside, creating an increasingly toxic nightmare. The fracking boosters knew it was only a matter of time that the gap between their sunny claims of safety and the toxic reality of the Pennsylvania shale boom would become too great to ignore any longer....

As the frackers howled for the state to lift the moratorium, the anti-frackers began to get organized. People allover the state, many completely new to activism of any kind, began organizing against fracking right in their own backyards. Local anti-fracking organizations began springing up everywhere. Those local orgs began working together and statewide orgs like New Yorkers Against Fracking and Don't Frack New York began to form. Then existing statewide orgs like WFP and others [like the Greens?] took up the cause.

And then those local ant-fracking organizers began doing something brilliant, something that, in the end, may have been the single most important tactical move in the whole war, though I doubt very few people realized its significance at the time. They began pressuring their local city governments to ban fracking within their city limits using zoning laws or passing new ones if necessary.

Those are the towns of Dryden and Middlefield. Fast forward through the electoral politics, to today's press conference:

That update began with DEC head Joe Martens showing maps of the Marcellus in the Southern Tier and then methodically shading parts of it out as he listed why these parcels couldn't be considered for fracking....

And then he took all the towns and cities in the area who had banned fracking within their city limits off the map. ... When he took all of those towns off the map, only 37% of the Southern Tier's shale was left for possible fracking. He mentioned that the Court of Appeals had upheld the right of municipalities to ban the process and then stated the prospects for fracking in the area are "uncertain at best." He twisted the dagger a bit by adding that the financial benefits of fracking are "far lower than originally forecast."

In the end, all those local bans played a huge part in making fracking far less attractive financially and the head of the DEC made it a point to mention that fact repeatedly.

And here's a list of what the fracktivists did and did right:

They got organized locally.

  • They got organized statewide.
  • They correctly identified the significant points of leverage in the machines and applied pressure that never stopped.
  • They took their case to their own city halls and made the issue real for people.
  • They backed a primary candidate with a funny name and no money who won half the counties in the state while amplifying the fracktivist message.
  • They changed the debate.
  • They moved public opinion significantly.
  • They severely restricted Cuomo's freedom of movement on the issue.
  • They completely out-maneuvered Andrew Cuomo, eventually placing him in such a tight position that his only possible option was to defer to the science.
  • Huge victory for civic engagement in many forms. I'd like to put all this into Gene Sharp's categories, but it doesn't really fit. I think that's a problem with Sharp's categories. On the one hand, it seems to me that for "us" to get anywhere, we have to look at the state capital occupations, Occupy Proper, carré rouge, the Fergusonians, and the anti-fracking movements (and I'm sure there are others) as part of a continuum, and not isolated silos or events. Sharp's framework doesn't really let us do that. I need to think about that.

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