Vice President Kamala Harris Promised Me a Fracking Ban

Vice President Kamala Harris Promised Me a Fracking Ban

Photograph by Spencer Lowell / Trunk Archive

 

WORDS BY JESSIE BLUEDORN

AS TOLD TO YESSENIA FUNES

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris promised voters sweeping climate policy. Instead, they’re ramping up oil and gas production. The Frontline takes on fracking—and the power of a ban like the one Harris promised back in 2019.

Growing up, I spent most summers on my grandparents’ farm. It’s always been one of my favorite places in the world. This is where my dad grew up—in a small town in western Pennsylvania surrounded by verdant woods, rolling hay fields, and cows out to pasture. My family has lived on this land since my great-great grandparents bought it in the 1930s. They’ve managed to hold onto the land ever since.

 

I grew up with the feeling that the world was full of problems, but that someone somewhere was handling them. I didn’t think the problems were for young people like myself at the time to worry about. That changed as I got older, and the climate crisis became even more personal when fracking came to Pennsylvania.

 

In Pennsylvania, over 12,000 fracking wells have been drilled since 2008. Across the U.S., at least 17.6 million people live within a kilometer of an active well. I worry that my grandparents aren’t safe. After the 2016 elections, I jumped into the climate organizing space. That’s how I landed before Vice President Kamala Harris during the CNN climate change town hall in 2019. There, I asked if she would implement a federal fracking ban her first day in office should she become president. Harris was quick to say, “There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking.” I was thrilled, excited, and surprised to hear her response. It felt unexpected.

And yet, more than two years later, there’s no federal fracking ban in place. Sure, Harris isn’t president—but she is vice president. I know making a campaign promise is not the same as passing policy, but her response signaled progress. It signaled hope. I hoped that more candidates, including now President Joe Biden, would get on the same page. That’s not how it’s all played out, unfortunately. Biden didn’t support a federal fracking ban on the campaign trail, but he did support a drilling ban on federal lands. 

 

Instead, President Biden’s administration approved more federal drilling permits on public lands a month than former President Donald Trump did. To be precise, Biden has approved 35% more drilling permits per month than Trump, on average. The inescapable headlines of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—plus the price shock at the pump—is pushing this reality to front of mind. Since the war started, Biden has released tens of millions of barrels of reserved oil into the market. He’s also restarted lease sales for drilling on public lands, contradicting his campaign promise. Oil and gas companies that don’t drill more now face the real risk of being fined by the federal government. 

 

This is a grim reality given the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reminding us that we are very much on the precipice of irreversible climate damage. And none of this is what we were promised when we went to the polls in 2020. We were sold on a climate presidency—on transformative policy. 

 

I imagine the president is scrambling ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, but we have to make clear to him what it is the people want: bold climate action. The perfect time to have banned fracking across the U.S. would’ve been yesterday. The second best time is now. We do not have much time to stop our reliance on fossil fuels. It’s a moral and existential imperative that we do. A nationwide fracking ban brings us one step closer to stepping away from oil and gas.

These photographs show the family farm where my grandparents live in western Pennsylvania. (Photographs by Jessie Bluedorn)

After all, fracking as an industry has never delivered on its promises. It did not revitalize the American heartland. Rather, the industry has caused childhood cancer clusters to appear in southwestern Pennsylvania. The state is finally investigating the tragedy. Fracking releases dozens of chemicals that may cause cancer. Living nearby these facilities has been linked to early death among elderly people, too. My grandparents still live close to fracking wells, and they’re two of my absolute favorite people in this world. I never wanted to read a headline like that. 

 

Gas never became the bridge fuel or path to energy independence it was promised to be. The methane emissions from the industry are much more significant than originally projected. Atmospheric levels of methane increased by a record amount last year—and I have no doubt fracking is to blame.

 

Putting off the inevitable and doubling down on a toxic and expensive industry full of lies and contradiction is not the move. This is the moment to drill that home. We’re already seeing fracking bans on the local level. New York state banned fracking in 2014. Los Angeles is now moving to end new oil and gas drilling. Still, that’s not enough. 

The perfect time to have banned fracking across the U.S. would’ve been yesterday. The second best time is now.

JESSIE BLUEDORN
CLIMATE ORGANIZER

The climate crisis demands an all-of-the-above response. State and city policy are so important, but we also need to mobilize massive budgets at the federal level. We can’t slowly piecemeal our way to climate victory. We need the federal government to act. A ban on fracking is a start.

 

This is what young voters want. It’s what communities like my grandparents’ deserve. So much climate action remains on the table. The administration still has a chance to take executive action. Vice President Harris made a commitment to me—to the American public—in 2019. She still has time to follow through and ban fracking once and for all. 

 

Otherwise, this presidency will be just another disappointment. 

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