This week, as part of our ongoing campaign to stop fracked gas pipelines and export terminals by keeping the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) shut down, we visited the US Senate to deliver thousands of your letters, signatures and messages.
Big Props to the Delaware River Keeper Network, who organized a lot of the logistics and set up dozens of meetings for our team on capitol hill. And special thanks (as always) to our besties at Beyond Extreme Energy and Berks Gas Truth who showed up to walk the halls, lobby legislators and work the press with us.
Here’s a short video recap from our friends (I’m the one in the grey suit) and a written reportback follows:
Our pipeline fighters were on the hill today to talk about FERC, and the #DirtyEnergyBill. I sat in on a meeting with Sen. Sanders staff that was predictably amicable. In fact, within hours of our catching up, Bernie had put out a statement opposed to the energy bill, and re-iterated his opposition to Trump’s extreme FERC nominees. But he is, frustratingly, the ONLY Senator to have raised objections so far.
The other meetings I sat in on, with staff for Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-PA) were less encouraging. Cartwright’s staff were sympathetic, he’s got major gas pipelines proposed for his district and says he hears about it all the time from constituents. he’s mad at FERC for rubber stamping these projects without adequate community review, and conversant in the need to invest in renewable energy (not just gas). Even more important, the day before our meeting Cartwright had voted NO (the right vote) on legislation to dramatically expand FERC’s powers, including giving them oversight of international oil pipelines like Keystone XL.
But Cartwright’s staffer was also pretty down-beat on our chances: he said several times that as the minority party in the house, Democrats just don’t have much power to fight or stop bad energy legislation. That’s true, as far as it goes procedurally, but it’s not exactly the kind of leadership we’re looking for to inspire the resistance or unite the supposedly bi-partisan movement of Congress that wants to #ActOnClimate.
The Warner meeting was, if anything, more frustrating. The staffer was courteous and knew what we were about. He (like most Democrats) said that the Senator cares about climate change, and wants to invest in renewable energy. He also allowed as how he hears a lot from constituents, especially in the western part of the state, about how FERC’s trampling local property rights and the environment by fast tracking the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines. But when we put the tough questions to him – whether he’d vote against FERC nominees, demand hearings on their abuses of power, and vote against the #DirtyEnergyBill – it was clear Warner wanted to #ActOnClimate only insofar as it didn’t actually require him to vote on anything. He plans to vote YES on the Dirty Energy Bill, and while he hasn’t committed one way or another, it seems like he’d vote to approve the FERC commissioners too.
Elsewhere, our team was walking the halls making sure everyone knew about FERC and fracking and the need for action. They bumped into Senator Hirono in the halls, one of only three Democrats (Sanders and Wyden are the other two) to vote against the FERC nominees in committee. After confusing her with an un-woke Senator, our team thanked her profusely, and later got to meet with her staff and thank them again. I get the sense that Markey is probably get-able, but I didn’t meet with his staff. Ditto on Merkley and Warren – I didn’t talk directly to anyone on their staff but based on other conversations, and their Climate Hawks scores, they probably lean no.
We also ran into Sen Al Franken in the hall, and chatted with him for a few. We didn’t talk long enough to pin his vote down, but my guess is that he’s a yes until persuaded — he also voted for FERC nominees out of committee, just as an example of when he’s followed Cantwell and Murkowski’s lead in recent weeks. Those votes are surprising mostly because Franken has been making funny new videos for the internet and writing books about how he’s a badass climate warrior speaking truth to power. It’s hard to believe that, though, when he’s voting for Trump’s nominees, to approve more pipelines, and expedite the construction of new fracked gas infrastructure. I couldn’t resist a little snark for the former SNL performer, so we made a quick video mocking that contradiction too.
I tried to pitch the idea to anyone who would listen, but especially Warner (who’s a member of Democratic leadership in the Senate) that if the Democrats are serious about building a different energy future than Trump and the Republicans (see also, Paris, Climate Agreement, The) then they really can’t be voting for an energy bill co-sponsored by Murkowski and fast-tracked by McConnell. If they vote for this, all Democrats will be doing is giving McConnell and team a pop of good press and “look how clever and bipartisan Republicans can be when the President doesn’t tweet”.
But it seems clear that nobody in Democratic leadership is buying that line, yet. Their new “better deal” plan includes exactly 0 references to climate change or a just transition to a clean energy future — despite the fact that rebuilding our energy economy could be the biggest jobs program (public or private) since the WPA. And for some reason they’re still not making the connection that fracked gas is a fossil fuel. It’s a bridge to nowhere and any vote that expands, fast-tracks, expedites or exports gas is a vote against the climate. Too many of them are possessed by what I sometimes call “Booker’s Myopia” — named for fantastic frontman and terrible negotiator Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ). Booker’s Myopia is characterized by an inability to see past the value of bi-partisanship, a sort of myopia that focusses on how brave and reasonable one looks “reaching across the aisle” while missing the point that looking reasonable while negotiating with an authoritarian regime hell bent on destroying the planet is not actually a good thing.
Booker became the name-sake of this illness (which presents disproportionally in Democrats from safe seats in the Senate. Check your Senators regularly by asking “so, will you vote against legislation that causes climate change, even if it has a bi-partisan co-sponsors?”) when he cheerfully negotiated an end to the us ban on crude oil exports DURING the paris climate talks. It was a perfect storm of blindness – Booker’s own constituents (local oil refineries in NJ) hated the plan, as did nearly every environmental group and Climate Justice campaign. The only people for it were the big oil companies. But there was Booker, parading around the paris COP talks like a hero while giving ExxonMobil exactly what it wanted for Christmas. That sort of thing would make most of us blind, but Booker’s immune due to the Myopia.
Anyway, we’re not done yet in the fight to stop FERC and the #DirtyEnergyBill. The Senate is due to take up Health Care next, and that will buy us at least a few more days, maybe a week or two, to round up the votes we need in opposition. As a reminder, the Dirty Energy Bill will need 60 votes, and there are all kinds of procedural ways to slow down or block a FERC nominee. So if even a handfull of Senators are willing to stand up and fight for our climate, we can mount a serious challenge.
You can chip in to keep us fighting here, and stay tuned for further updates and actions.