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Environmental Lobby Day: “Frack, NO – Clean Energy, YES!”

[Update: 6/18/12 – Chris Hedges’ column today nails what I was driving at in the conclusion to this post. So I will excerpt the key message:

The engine of all protest movements rests, finally, not in the hands of the protesters but the ruling class. If the ruling class responds rationally to the grievances and injustices that drive people into the streets, as it did during the New Deal, if it institutes jobs programs for the poor and the young, a prolongation of unemployment benefits (which hundreds of thousands of Americans have just lost), improved Medicare for all, infrastructure projects, a moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions, and a forgiveness of student debt, then a mass movement can be diluted. Under a rational ruling class, one that responds to the demands of the citizenry, the energy in the street can be channeled back into the mainstream. But once the system calcifies as a servant of the interests of the corporate elites, as has happened in the United States, formal political power thwarts justice rather than advances it. –

Hedges then cites Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul to explain why the current political process is broken and suggest what progressives, environmentalists, and those on the left should be doing instead of working the inside game and on electoral politics:

And the formulation of ideas, which are always at first the purview of a small, marginalized minority, is one of the fundamental tasks of the movement. It is as important to think about how we will live and to begin to reconfigure our lives as it is to resist.   end update]

Hundreds of citizens and activists converged on the Capitol yesterday to ask lawmakers to ban fracking and restore Governor Christie’s diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars of clean energy funds (read the Star Ledger story here).

But this was a traditional Trenton lobbying effort, certainly not an occupation.

Christie’s budget this year proposes to divert another $275 million, for a 3 year total of over $600 million in Clean Energy funds that Gov. Christie has stolen to pay for his corporate tax cuts and subsidies (which the NY Times reports amount to over $1.57 billion thus far).

In prior years, Democratic lawmakers have rubber stamped those budgets.  This year, environmentalists again are demanding that the diversions be stopped and funding restored.

Let’s see if Democrats can make blocking the Governor’s proposed diversion of $275 million in Clean Energy Funds a priority in this year’s budget negotiations.

That will be far more difficult and have far greater positive impacts than passing last year’s symbolic ban on fracking wells (which Gov. Chrisitie CV’s to a temporary moratorium) and this year’s proposed legislation that would ban the in state treatment or disposal of fracking wastewater.

And aside from the politics of the budget, we don’t want readers to forget that the main risk of fracking to NJ comes from proposed Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) regulations.

If those regulations are adopted, that would lift the current moratorium and allow 18,000 – 20,000 wells to be drilled in the NY and Pennsylvania portions of the watershed. That drilling would pose not only chemical threats to NJ waters, but would consume BILLIONS of gallons of water.

As one wise environmentalists I spoke with asked me: with all that water going to gas drilling, what will we do during the next drought?

No one is talking about that issue either.

Democrats have run away from critically important legislation they introduced last session (see: A3314 and S2575). That legislation would establish a NJ policy at the DRBC with respect to fracking and prevent Gov. Christie from voting in favor of those regulations.

Christie represents NJ’s interest on the DRBC, and NJ’s vote could determine the outcome.

But, amidst all the praise for Democrats yesterday for enacting largely symbolic gestures, we heard none of that.

Aside from these legislative political stunts, as long as resources, organizing, and the good faith of citizen activists are limited to traditional Trenton inside political games and lobbying, we will continue to lose to corporate interests. I’ll close with a illustrative quote from a recent Chris Hedges column on Daniel Berrigan:

There is one place, Berrigan says, where those who care about justice need to be—in the streets. The folly of electoral politics, the colossal waste of energy invested in the charade of the Wisconsin recall, which once again funneled hopes and passion back into a dead political system and a bankrupt Democratic Party, the failure by large numbers of citizens to carry out mass acts of civil disobedience, will only ensure that we remain hostages to corporate power.

Occupy Trenton supports fracking ban, but environmentalists showed little support for Occupy.

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