Fighting for Health and Hope

I’m allowing myself to feel hope as spring is emerging, vaccines are rolling out, and the Biden-Harris administration is taking climate action, already delivering some big wins in the fight against dirty fuels. We’re moving forward. Together, we’ve built power strong enough to take on the fossil fuel industry. 

We are still living with the trauma of the past year, which has disproportionately fallen on communities of color and low-income communities. Battles for our lives and the health and survival of our loved ones have been our top priority during this pandemic. 

This struggle has raised an important question in my mind: Why are people still needlessly suffering from pollution so a few can profit? 

Numerous scientific studies show a direct link between oil and gas pollution and a wide range of serious adverse health impacts, including asthma, cancer, high-risk pregnancies, and preterm births. Air pollution produced by burning fossil fuels is also directly linked to higher risks of contracting and dying from COVID-19. It’s far past time for environmental justice. 

We have the opportunity to walk away from dirty fossil fuels right now and embrace a better, more sustainable future, creating jobs that pay family-sustaining wages and cleaning up a legacy of pollution from the oil and gas industries. Easy systems shifts can pave the way for a clean, thriving economy and give us a much better chance of keeping ourselves healthy and safe from climate chaos. 

Communities in California fight for survival again and again 

Of all oil and gas production in California, about 80 percent is in Kern County, California, with 78,000 oil and gas wells. The county recently passed a massive oil and gas expansion to greenlight tens of thousands of new oil and gas wells over the next two decades with no additional environmental review. Expanding toxic oil and gas extraction would cause devastating public health impacts in an area that already has some of the nation’s worst air, and it would disproportionately harm Kern’s communities of color. Nearly 92 percent of the Californians who live within a mile of oil and gas wells and in areas already heavily burdened by pollution are people of color

The Sierra Club and our allies are taking the county to court. Kern County has fought and won in the courts before; a similar proposal was introduced in 2015 and we successfully defeated it in the courts in 2020. It’s time to let communities stop just surviving and start thriving. We need to stop drilling in neighborhoods. In a recent article, I break down a blueprint for a world less reliant on fossil fuels and the urgent need to eliminate all $20 billion worth of oil and gas subsidies, transition to 100 percent clean energy, and create a massive number of jobs cleaning up the millions of abandoned wells. There is opportunity in change, with good jobs to clean up old polluting infrastructure and build a healthy future. 

Texas and Louisiana on the frontlines of the fight against dirty fuels

There are more than a dozen proposed liquified fracked gas export facilities along the Gulf Coast, in a region that, for far too long, has been overburdened with industrialization, and in communities already suffering impacts from the pollution and climate crisis. These exports in the Gulf South are nothing short of terrifying -- pump gas from fracking fields, build risky and explosive pipelines, send the gas to big polluting export terminals, turn it from gas into liquid, put it on tanker ships across the ocean, turn it back into gas, and use needless amounts of water and energy along the way. I recently broke down the impacts of dirty fuels and what we need to do to avert the climate crisis, with examples of big local wins against dangerous pipelines, oil drilling, and fracked gas projects. Communities are fighting back against these projects because of the impact they would have on their homes and the safety of their families. They have made it clear that polluting pipelines and export terminals for dirty fuels are not welcome or wanted. Join them in calling on the Biden Administration to stop reckless oil and gas export proposals.

Hold oil and gas companies accountable 

For too long, oil and gas companies have been subsidized at the expense of our communities. It’s time for Congress to make sure public lands are managed for the public. Representative Diana Degette recently introduced legislation that would cement long-overdue and common sense standards to limit methane pollution from the oil and gas industry and rein in excessive venting and flaring of gas on public lands. Dirty fuels cause irreparable harm to our land, air, water, and climate, and to all of the communities living nearby. This bill represents a major step forward in the fight to address climate change, protect public health, and reduce methane waste and pollution from the oil and gas industry. We applaud Representative Diana DeGette for her leadership and for prioritizing the health and safety of our communities. We look forward to advancing this legislation and other efforts to ensure that the oil and gas industry pays its fair share, and that our country is moving away from reliance on fossil fuels. 

We aren’t just working for accountability in Congress: we’re also asking Wall Street to stop financing dirty fuels projects on and off our public lands. Behind each of these projects -- from export terminals to pipelines -- is a set of big banks, asset managers, and public financiers that are providing the funding and front-end investment to prop up this outdated industry. It is past time for big banks and investors to stop the money pipeline that is fueling the climate crisis. 

A time to be grateful and hopeful and fight harder than ever

Across the country, we are working in partnership to challenge these destructive proposed dirty fuels projects every step of the way. In “Against All Odds,” I share proof that our movement is winning, with Indigenous organizers and allies succeeding in the cancellation of the fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. Now, we are calling on the Biden administration to stop the Dakota Access and Line 3 pipelines once and for all. There is hope in rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, which this new administration committed to on day one. There is hope in the Biden Administration stopping all new leasing and drilling of dirty fuels on public lands and waters. Plus, the confirmation of Congresswoman Deb Haaland, the most qualified nominee to lead the Department of the Interior in US history, signifies a reorientation of Interior toward people, Indigenous rights, and climate-focused, science-based conservation. Frontline leaders are looking to President Biden to end the era of fossil fuel production, protect communities reeling from the climate crisis, invest in Black, Brown, Indigenous, and working class communities, and deliver jobs, justice, and opportunity. For all of this and more, I am hopeful.