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States and Towns Fill Federal Void on Fracking

J. Mijin Cha

Increasingly, states and municipalities are stepping in to fill the federal void on regulating and banning fracking. California has at least eight bills looking to regulate and/or tax fracking operations. Vermont became the first state to ban the practice. The New Jersey state legislature also banned the practice, and though Governor Christie vetoed it, he implemented a one-year moratorium on fracking. 

Towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado and New York have also banned fracking, even though they face lawsuits challenging their bans. In Colorado, the state sued the city of Longmont last year after its leaders imposed regulations on in-town oil and gas exploration. Voters in the city then responded by passing a ban, which triggered state officials to say they would support a second lawsuit filed against the city by the fracking industry. Four municipalities in New York are currently embroiled in court battles defending their local bans on fracking. In fact, more than 150 New York cities and town have temporary or permanent bans on fracking.

The level of pushback against fracking shows the deep concern communities have about being exposed to fracking operations-- and, for good reasons. We’ve continually highlighted the damage fracking does to the environment, health, and economic well-being of communities. The problem is that the damage caused by fracking is not geographically contained so even if one municipality is successful in banning it, a neighboring town could allow it and then both towns would suffer. For this reason, environmental regulations, in particular, need to be comprehensive and equally applied. As fracking operations often cross state lines, a federal approach is a necessity.

States and municipalities have been forced into this position because the federal government has punted its responsibility. Even though fracking uses massive volumes of water and directly impacts water supplies, it is exempt from regulation under the Clean Water Act. The EPA failed to include methane emissions from the oil and gas industry in its latest emissions standards. Methane release is a significant problem with fracking operations and one of the reasons natural gas does not have as much climate benefit over coal as is touted.

In the debate over our energy future, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the transition to a clean economy is inevitable. The longer we delay making the investments we need to ramp up clean energy sources, the more difficult it will become. We need to follow the lead of these states and municipalities and stop fracking and start building our energy future.