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November 07, 2014

Green Victories On a Blue Day


As we look at the November 4 election results throughout the country and especially in the U.S. Senate, many environmentalists may be feeling a bit defeated, and worried about the trajectory of recent federal progress setting unprecedented fuel economy standards and significantly reducing carbon pollution in the electric sector.

However, if you look closely at this week's election results, there are bright spots where the environmental agenda carried the day. It turns out that in California and Texas -- yes, Texas --the oil industry took a harder hit.

In Richmond, California, population 107,000 and home to a Chevron refinery that exploded in 1999 and again in 2012, the oil giant spent $3 million on the mayoral and city council races. The corporation's goals were to elect local officials who would not stand up to the corporation's egregious inspection and oversight practices that led to those devastating events. However, instead of falling prey to Chevron's overbearing advertising tactics and its election website purporting to provide the objective view, Richmond voters stood up to the oil giant and defeated all of Chevron's candidates. The victorious mayoral candidate had a campaign budget of about $50,000.

In California's San Benito and Mendocino counties, the voters also defeated more than $2 million of oil industry campaigning to pass measures that ban fracking within their borders. With only $140,000 of grassroots campaign money, ongoing advocacy among California communities demonstrated that the public is not buying the oil industry's deceptive claims that fracking is safe and will boost local economies. Instead, by exercising their right to vote, citizens spoke to protect homes, schools, public health, the environment, and scarce drinking water resources, and to boost investments in clean fuels.

And in Denton, Texas, at the heart of the state's energy boom, citizens resoundingly beat back the oil industry by banning fracking within city limits by a 59% to 41% margin. Again, the residents spoke out to say enough is enough.

Below, fracking in a residential neighborhood in Weld, Colorado, along the Rocky Mountain Front.


What's clear from these results is that the oil industry is dumping big bucks (relative to the opposition) into local politics to buy elections in an attempt to prolong our nation's dependence on dirty, dangerous fuels, and to undermine a transition to a clean fuel economy. But what's even clearer is that citizens aren't willing to be bought or duped by such dirty campaign tactics.

So in the midst of some of our post-election day woes, the citizens of Richmond, Denton, and San Benito and Mendocino Counties, provide a glimmer of hope that we can overcome dirty oil's pumping of money into campaign politics and beat back prolonged reliance on dangerous, climate-disruptive fuels.

In the upcoming weeks, California citizens have more opportunities to weigh in on extreme crude oil projects, including projects to expand rail transport of explosive, polluting crude oil through the San Francisco Bay Area and along California's treasured coastline. Please check back in the coming days for more information on how to take action.

- Devorah Ancel, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program

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