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Lance Simmens Headshot

Governor Should Say Frack No!

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To frack or not to frack, that is the question on the table in California. No one can doubt the stresses and strains that weigh on the leader of the world's eighth largest economy. California Governor Jerry Brown has legitimately deserved kudos for reining in huge deficits over the past several years that dwarf the budgets of entire states. In many ways he has shed his Governor Moonbeam reputation from his first go around as Governor over three decades ago, but I am not sure that is a positive thing. The Golden State, under Governor Brown's leadership in the seventies and eighties pioneered environmental initiatives that were the envy of the other 49 states. Many states would later follow California's lead with respect to portfolio standards, emissions reductions, cap and trade policies, mileage per gallon goals, coastal protection, state park protections, mountain conservancy and other programs.

While other states fracked their way to a phantom prosperity during the past decade, leaving in its wake water contamination, air contamination, public health catastrophes, industrialized communities where once stood bucolic settings, seemingly lunar landscapes carved out of indigenous countryside, devalued real estate, overburdened and degraded roads, and a network of pipelines carrying fool's gold extracted likes demons exorcised from the bowels of mother earth, California stood tall in the saddle of environmental protection. With the nation's premier state environmental quality act firmly in place it appeared as though the state would withstand short-sighted and counterproductive efforts to continue to feed the nation's insatiable appetite and addiction to fossil fuels.

After all, this was the land of the electric car, Tesla, Fisker, desert windmills and solar potential backed by incentives that would once again set the standards for a future dedicated to renewable energy. This was the land of the most ambitious high-speed rail project in the nation. But all of that has dissipated in a cloud of incomprehensible fossil foolishness as the Governor signed into law one of the most insidious pro-extractive industry recipes for overdevelopment of dirty oil cloaked in the shroud of regulatory reform to assault the planet in recent years. What happened to Governor Moonbeam? I want him back!

And it is not as if California's elected officials did not have the benefit of years of destructive experiences elsewhere upon which to carefully consider their actions, they did and they decided that doing something, regardless of how ineffectual or symbolic it might be, was better than taking the time to doing something right. I have been in the political arena for nearly four decades now and am totally cognizant of the pressures to settle for the best you can do. But sometimes the stakes are so high that doing the best you can do is simply not good enough.

New York State serves as an instructive example of how careful and deliberate consideration of scientific, evidence-based, peer-reviewed data should inform decisions that are of a magnitude as monumental as the one before not only our society but our species. We simply must not allow the allure of economic growth at any cost, campaign contributions that fuel a badly broken and dysfunctional political system, and allegiance to short-term gain at the expense of long-term pain to reinforce the negative and profoundly cynical suspicions of a large portion of the populace with respect to its governing institutions and elected leadership.

Our leaders once again let us down. The interests of industry have been served once again at the expense of all the rest of us. The actions of the California legislature mask the gravity of the issue of our future energy needs and can only be seen as a setback to achieving the desirable goal of an economic paradigm powered by renewable energy; energy that is clean from an emissions standpoint, inexhaustible, and sympathetic to the legacy that will be bequeathed to future generations.

And from the most practical of all political perspectives, why the world does it make sense to proceed apace with fracking and other fossil fuel extractive techniques, such as acidization, without at least having a firm grasp of the potential environmental and public health costs that seem to be affecting communities across the nation who have already experienced it?

The environmental community is united in its opposition to this fossil foolish approach to what is flippantly and inaccurately described as energy policy. That in itself is a powerful statement as unanimity is a rare commodity indeed in today's world. Enabling addiction is a dreadful sin and green-lighting fracking is a perversion of public policy, an insult to the future dreams and aspirations of our children, and a paean to the Gods of Greed where profits trump people. Instead we should be pursuing the precautionary principle of "do no harm" in tribute to the people's needs, both present and future. Yet, once again, the system has failed to deliver and those responsible should be held accountable. Governor Brown has the intellectual foresight and the intestinal constitution to avert a calamity here. Whether he exercises his predilection for vigorous and thoughtful examination of the issues at stake here is the question.

Signing this bill, SB 4, into law is a mistake, Governor. Time will tell, of course, but to do anything at this precarious juncture but take an exhaustive look at the issue is simply wrong. Hopefully you will pay homage to your sensibilities and intellect and declare a moratorium on fracking, acidization, and other well-stimulation techniques that place the public at risk. Hopefully you will lead us down the path to a future dedicated to renewable energy. That path has the enviable luxury of not only being what the people want but also being the right thing to do. The other path is fraught with peril and disappointment, but the disappointment will be amplified by the fact that you, of all people, will have paved the way.

Governor to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw seeing things as they are and asking why is simply not as important as seeing things that never were and asking why not and you have the ability to invoke this maxim by vetoing SB 4 and calling for a moratorium until we have the assurances that leadership dictates are necessary to make the right decision.