The Backdoor Bid to Ban Fracking

A cadre of Democrats is banking on a key personal tie to shut down the drilling process.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 30: A protestor holds a sign during a demonstration against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building on May 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Dozens of protesters with the group Californians Against Fracking staged a protest outside of California Gov. Jerry Brown's San Francisco offices demanding that Gov. Brown ban fracking in the state.
National Journal
Patrick Reis
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Patrick Reis
Nov. 15, 2013, 9:32 a.m.

In polit­ics, it’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.

That’s the lo­gic a group of polit­ic­al in­siders are bank­ing on in a push to ban frack­ing in Cali­for­nia, a state that ap­pears on the pre­cip­ice of a frack­ing boom.

A co­ali­tion of former ad­visers to Demo­crat­ic Gov. Jerry Brown is pre­par­ing to send its old boss a let­ter ask­ing him to im­pose a statewide morator­i­um on frack­ing un­less a string of sci­entif­ic stud­ies on the drilling’s en­vir­on­ment­al con­sequences can be stud­ied.

“As you read this, the oil in­dustry is act­ively ex­plor­ing the Monterey Shale and us­ing un­con­ven­tion­al, un­tested, and in­cred­ibly dan­ger­ous ex­trac­tion tech­niques to squeeze more dirty oil out of Cali­for­nia,” the ad­visers write.

The group is head­lined by Wendy Wend­landt, former na­tion­al or­gan­izer on Brown’s 1992 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, and Mi­chael Kieschnick, one of Brown’s former eco­nom­ic ad­visers. In an email ob­tained by Na­tion­al Journ­al, the duo claim to have more than a dozen former Brown ad­visers on board.

The in­siders may have a dir­ect pipeline to Brown, but — bar­ring a rad­ic­al de­par­ture in policy — their let­ter is not go­ing to con­vince the gov­ernor to ban frack­ing.

But it does un­der­score a con­tinu­al ten­sion with­in the Demo­crat­ic Party over frack­ing, for­cing its vari­ous fac­tions to pri­or­it­ize between the in­creased rev­en­ue it brings to states against the en­vir­on­ment­al risks — and con­tro­versy — of a massive, and rap­id, ex­pan­sion of fossil fuels.

Thus far, Brown ap­pears to be seek­ing a middle ground.

The gov­ernor signed a com­pre­hens­ive frack­ing policy in­to law in Septem­ber and is cur­rently over­see­ing key pro­vi­sions in that law that are set to go in­to ef­fect at the start of 2014. The law re­quires drillers to dis­close more in­form­a­tion about their frack­ing prac­tices, and it calls for a study of its en­vir­on­ment­al con­sequences, but it fell far short of the bind­ing reg­u­la­tions green groups were push­ing for.

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