Environmentalists Go Local

Election night sees mixed results for fracking and export bans

Fracking in Pennsylvania / AP
November 6, 2013

Environmentalists saw mixed results on Tuesday after turning their attention to local elections to thwart fracking and the export of coal.

Colorado voters in three cities voted Tuesday to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking," while a fourth local election is still too close to call.

Voters in Youngstown, Ohio, voted down an anti-fracking proposal and Bowling Green rejected a "citizen's bill of rights" that would have mandated access to clean air and water.

Environmental activists claim fracking contaminates ground water and poses other environmental hazards. However, they have found little support from the Obama administration, which has touted natural gas as a clean alternative to traditional fossil fuels.

"There's nothing inherently dangerous in fracking that sound engineering practices can't accomplish," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy in an interview this week with the Boston Globe.

Efforts on the state level to ban fracking have run into steep opposition. The victories in Colorado may represent a new line of attack for fracking opponents.

Longmont, Colorado voted to ban oil and gas development in November, 2012. Longmont is located in the deeply Democratic Boulder County, the same county where two of this year’s anti-fracking initiatives were located.

Meanwhile, anti-coal candidates in Washington won four seats on the Whatcom County Council, a small election that could have major financial impacts in the coming years. The council will have a hand in approving or denying a coal export facility to ship coal to Asia.

Environmentalists opposed to the export terminal turned what would have been a minor election into a big-money contest. Green groups, including Tom Steyer's NextGen, heavily outspent industry interests.

According to National Journal, the PAC opposing the terminal raised $671,202, including $150,000 from the national League of Conservation Voters and $275,000 from NextGen.

By comparison, the pro-terminal PAC raised $165,641 from coal and energy industry supporters.

A petition in South Portland, Maine, that would have stopped exports of oil sands crude from Canada failed by a narrow margin.