Refused to Give Up, Refused to Give In

New York State's ban on fracking is a hard-fought victory that will no doubt have reverberations around the world, so what’s next in the fracking fight?

Leslie Roeder, an advocate with New Yorkers Against Fracking, celebrates in 2014 after Govenor Cuomo announced he would ban hydraulic fracking.
Leslie Roeder, an advocate with New Yorkers Against Fracking, celebrates in 2014 after Govenor Cuomo announced he would ban hydraulic fracking. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times/Redux)

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“I believe that future generations will point to this day and say ‘This is when the tide began to turn against the dirty, dangerous and destructive fossil fuel industry,’” – Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg, Dec. 17, 2014

Last Wednesday, New York became the first state with proven oil and gas reserves to announce that it will ban fracking. The people had triumphed over the richest and most powerful industry in the world. It was a day for the history books and one that would never have happened if it weren’t for, well, basically everyone.

People from Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio, Arkansas and other fracking-plagued states sounded the alarm and educated New Yorkers about the coming threat. Scientists uncovered the evidence of fracking’s dangers. Lawyers discovered that New York towns had the right to ban fracking and defended that right in court. Organizers brought people together for rallies and marches and meetings. Musicians lifted everyone’s spirits. City residents, country dwellers, artists, chefs, moms, dads, kids and everyone else signed petitions, rallied, marched and waved signs. And a dedicated few followed Governor Andrew Cuomo to every event he attended and pledged to put their bodies on the line if he approved fracking.

And at long last the elected officials listened to what the people were saying: we must ban fracking.

Make no mistake—this is just the beginning. What happened in New York can happen anywhere. In fact, it already is.

Key building blocks of New York’s statewide ban are the 80 local bans that communities across New York have passed—products of the brave and brilliant strategy hatched by Helen Slottje, winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her and her husband David’s work. (Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg also defended the rights of those communities in a precedent-setting legal victory, something state officials highlighted as a tipping point in their decision to ban fracking.)

These same local building blocks that New Yorkers used in their fight to ban fracking are being put to use right now across the country, in states like Texas and California. In Pennsylvania, groups won a state Supreme Court victory that affirmed local zoning rights over fracking operations. The people of Ohio are awaiting a similar state Supreme Court ruling.

These local efforts—infused with momentum from New York and combined with statewide organizing, tough lawyering, the creativity of everyone who joins this movement, and courage from our elected officials—will all help us win our fight for a healthy environment and a renewable-energy economy.

This isn’t just about fracking, of course. It’s about saving our civilization from climate crisis. It won’t be easy, it won’t be quick, and we will most certainly have setbacks along the way.

But the victory in New York shows us that when we all work together, we can accomplish great things. To change everything it takes everyone. Have you decided what role you will play?

From 2007–2018, Kathleen partnered with clean energy coalitions and grassroots organizations, empowered communities to fight against fracking, and worked with the Policy & Legislation team to have their messages heard by legislators.

Established in 2008, Earthjustice’s Northeast Office, located in New York City, is at the forefront of issues at the intersection of energy, environmental health, and social justice.