Around the country, communities fighting fracking took their cause to the ballot box in the 2014 cycle — or tried to. But even before voters got a chance to voice their values some were preempted by nefariously oily means. In Butte County, CA the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) —California’s biggest lobby — found a “formatting error” on residents’ petition (meaning: a few words that should have been in bold face type on the petition). Although Frack-Free Butte County won in court, their ordinance was delayed beyond the election season.
For some places, the corporate dollars were too big to beat. In Santa Barbara California, Chevron, ExxonMobil and other corporate oil interests donated $7 million to drown local efforts, confuse voters and sink endorsements of the defeated Measure P. They were not alone.
As Common Cause has reported, Big Oil spent $267 million in the last 15 years on California lobbying and political contributions in Sacramento, the lion’s share of which coincides with fracking’s ugly rise as the short-term future of the fossil fuel industry. Others made it on to the ballot, only to find millions of dollars being poured into their local elections by Big Oil and Gas lobbies.
In Colorado, statehouse officials denied democracy by refusing to let communities vote on fracking. In August, Colorado’s Democratic Governor, John Hickenlooper convinced U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) to pull his support for the citizen initiative process that would have enabled two anti-fracking initiatives on the ballot and amended the state constitution to give more control over drilling and fracking to local communities.
And in the most talked about local victory of the elections, residents of Denton, Texas, “the birthplace of fracking” overwhelmingly saw past the big lobby money to ban fracking on election day, only to have state officials and the Texas oil lobby sue to overturn the ordinance, telling residents that its “not their job” to approve or deny fracking permits in their town.
Even in San Benito California, CA, where residents passed a fracking ban despite the big lobby dollars, they may face a new post-election hurdle. “It’s a regulatory taking because it’s the regulation which is depriving property owners of the ability to extract value from their minerals or property,” Armen Nahabedian of Citadel Exploration, a company that’s developing an oil project in San Benito told KQED. “So it’s the duty of the county at this point to either allow people to continue to extract value from their property and not enforce the initiative or to compensate them accordingly with the fair market value of what they’ve been deprived of,” he says.
All of these point to a problem that is (unbelievably) even bigger than fracking—the state of democracy.
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