© 2023 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Fracking Opponents Hope To Influence NY Presidential Primary

Karen DeWitt

Fracktivists, as anti-fracking activists are called, hope to play a role in New York’s presidential primary. Activists are asking Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as Republican candidates, to take a stand against the Constitution Pipeline and other natural gas pipelines, that if approved could crisscross the state. 

More than 200 fracktivists held a rally to oppose natural gas pipelines in New York, and to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban them. 

Attorney Robert Kennedy, Jr. is representing the opponents of the Constitution Pipeline, through the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University, which he founded.

In a speech to the cheering crowd on the steps of the Capitol, Kennedy says the present system favors what he calls the “dirtiest fuels” from “hell.”

“Rather than the cheap, green, wholesome and patriotic fuels from heaven,” Kennedy said.  

The fractivists are hoping to play a role in the presidential primary in New York. They want Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to go on record against building more pipelines for fossil fuel-based energy. Kennedy, who did not say whom he backs in the primary, says he has also written both campaigns, asking for their views on the issue. He says the movement already convinced Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in New York.

“These are people who vote,” said Kennedy, who said it takes devotion to stand outside in 20 degree weather to hear speeches, then march several blocks to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, for another demonstration.

“There’s two things that drive politics in our country. One is money, and the other is intensity,” Kennedy said. “You’re looking at intensity right here.”

In 2014 many fracking opponents voted for Zephyr Teachout against Governor Cuomo in the Democratic primary, and Teachout won several upstate counties where fracking had been proposed. Teachout was against the natural gas extraction process. Shortly after he won re-election, Cuomo outlawed fracking in the state. Cuomo, who is Kennedy’s ex-brother-in-law, has so far not taken a position on the pipelines. His environmental agency says it will review the pipeline permits and make a decision based on “sound science.”

The Democratic candidates for President voiced their views on fracking in a March 6 debate on CNN. Clinton told moderator Anderson Cooper that she supports fracking only when local governments approve, when companies reveal what chemicals they are using in the fracking fluids, and if they can prove they are not polluting the water or the land.

“By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue,” Clinton said.  

Sanders’ answer:

“My answer is a lot shorter,” Sanders said. “No, I do not support fracking.”

For Walter Hang, an Ithaca-based fractivist with the group Toxics Targeting, says that’s not enough. He says while Sanders’ positon on fracking is much more to his liking than Clinton’s, he wants to know more about the related pipeline debate and is conducting a petition drive.

“These candidates have to spell out their positions much more clearly,” Hang said. “They’re sophisticated, they’re knowledgeable and they need to know what’s going on before April 19 (primary day).”

Tensions over the issue were highlighted recently when a Greenpeace supporter questioned Clinton at a rally in New Paltz about donations from fossil fuel companies. She displayed frustration, saying she was “sick” of Sanders supporters lying about her record. The Greenpeace member was not connected with the Sanders campaign.

Hang and other fractivists are planning to hold demonstrations outside Clinton and Sanders events in New York over the next couple of weeks as the primary date approaches.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
Related Content