The Struggle Continues

From the May/June 2018 PNL #860

By Kitty Burns

For many of us in New York, our involvement in the fight against climate change started with the anti-fracking movement. There, we learned that our effort to stop an activity that endangered water, farms, health, children, country roads and even beauty was more complex than we had initially thought. It involved our economic system and the power of corporations, and the question of whether corporations or people were more important. It certainly involved government on all levels, from town boards to the governor. It involved departments of health and transportation, and zoning laws and the DEC. It also involved taking a hard look at what really happened to communities and local economies when fracking came to town.  Most importantly, it involved gas energy and its infrastructure, renewable energy vs fracked gas, and the effect of fracking on our climate. 
We formed organizations all across our state. We lobbied, knocked on doors, attended and participated in hearings, wrote letters, demonstrated wherever the governor appeared, and more. To our great frustration, our president declared natural gas as a “bridge fuel” in the fight against climate change. This added another element to our struggle. In the end, we won the ban on fracking in New York that we had worked for five years to achieve. Underlying the fracking issue, however, was the related and even more important, complex, and lethal issue: climate change. The fracking ban had not solved that issue in New York.

Action Needed
The fracking and climate movements had actually grown together, and many of us continued our activism in the climate movement. We found that the fracking victory was not as complete as we had hoped. Using the “bridge fuel” justification, our state was deluged with requests from pipeline companies for permits for fracked gas pipelines. A large fracked gas power plant has been built, evidently with the help of bribes. A fracked gas power plant, to be located in a community of color that has already been harmed by a fossil fuel and trash burning power plant, has been proposed by the New York Power Authority to heat and cool the Empire State Plaza. This is despite Governor Cuomo’s 2017 statement that, “The state must double down by investing in the fight against dirty fossil fuels and fracked gas from neighboring states.” This is also despite studies that have determined fracked gas emits more greenhouse gas than coal when its methane leakage rate is taken into consideration. 
Unfortunately, the election of Donald Trump, a climate denier and lover of fossil fuels, has created a perfect storm for climate change that is progressing faster than expected. When Mr. Trump declared his intention to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, it became clear that the states needed to make the issue of climate change primary.  Here in New York, our governor has spoken fine words about fighting climate change, but little progress has actually been made. At this time, only 4% of our energy comes from wind and solar. It has become obvious that Mr. Cuomo needs another loud reminder that climate change must be aggressively fought.

Climate March: “Walk the Talk” Cuomo

The Climate March in Albany on April 23, 2018 was that loud reminder. Marchers from Buffalo to the Bronx made three crucial demands: halt all fracking infrastructure now, make a just transition to 100 percent renewables, and make corporate polluters pay into a transition fund. The March started at the Sheridan Hollow Steam Plant, which has already harmed the people of its low-income neighborhood. As Mert Simpson, Albany County Legislator and Sheridan Hollow resident stated, “I have reason to believe that members of my family have died from cancer from their exposure to this plant.” From this poisoned place, the thousands of marchers snaked their way through the streets of Albany to the Empire State Plaza, carrying art, making music, and demanding that Governor Cuomo, “Walk the Talk”.

The rally outside the Plaza was followed by another inside at the Million Dollar Staircase. There, a speaker from PUSH (People United for Sustainable Housing) Buffalo demanded renewable energy jobs for the jobless. Children spoke of their need for clean air and water, and others spoke of being poisoned by gas compressors. Their words and the words of others rang through the State Capitol, followed by the arrest of fifty-five for civil disobedience in the Governor’s hallway. For each person to be arrested, the marchers sang, “It feels like dawn, it feels like dawn, it feels like dawn in New York.”  I hope the governor heard, and I hope the singers were right.

Kitty is the chair of the Climate Justice Committee of CNY Solidarity Coalition. Please be sure to come to the Climate Solutions Summit on Saturday, May 19 in Syracuse. See