As the 114th Congress kicks off, environmental activists and good-government advocates alike are holding their breath - and their noses - at what we worry could be the most hostile period ever for clean air, clean water and public health in America. Some Congressional Republicans are even calling for the complete eradication of the Environmental Protection Agency. You can't make this stuff up.
So I'm obviously pleased that the Obama administration is already pushing back against early efforts by Congressional Republicans - and weak Democrats - to lay siege to our environment. The president's vow to veto legislation that would push through the Keystone XL pipeline is promising. His outright rejection of the foolish pipeline plan would be even better, but that's another story.
In addition to facilitating the increased extraction of climate-killing tar sands oil, the Keystone pipeline would run through the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world's largest drinking water sources and the provider of 30 percent of America's ground water irrigation needs. Any threat to this vital aquifer is an unacceptable risk to a vast drinking water source and our national food system.
But if President Obama really wants to protect America, there's more he needs to do. Right now, a much greater threat to our health and environment than Keystone is the pervasive use of fracking across the country. Fracking is the single greatest environmental threat of this generation, and up to now Obama has been complicit in it. This needs to change.
Until very recently, the fight against fracking had felt very much like an uphill battle against the global oil and gas industry and its entrenched, bought-off political allies from coast to coast. But New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's bold decision in December to ban fracking in his state was truly a game-changer for the entire movement.
Cuomo's smart decision was based on countless volumes of peer-reviewed science that clearly demonstrate the alarming risks of fracking to human health and the environment in areas where it occurs. But our victory in New York would not have been possible without an unprecedented grassroots advocacy effort that educated communities and organized actions around the state, from phone banks, petition drives and social media outreach, to massive rallies and demonstrations. We also encouraged everyday New Yorkers to come out regularly to Cuomo's public appearances and urge him to ban fracking.
Our hard-won victory shows that the anti-fracking movement can win when it builds political power around a clear message and an unambiguous goal.
President Obama would be wise to note that support for fracking nationally is falling. A PEW poll in November found that a 47 percent plurality of Americans, 59 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents nationally oppose increased fracking.
If he wants to make a real impact in the fight to take America back from the poisoning, polluting oil and gas industry, Obama needs to do much more than stall on a Keystone decision. He needs to move against fracking. A bright spot in this 114th Congress will be the introduction of legislation by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) that would ban fracking on all public lands. Supporting this popular bill would be a truly meaningful, lasting step in the right direction by President Obama.