March 1, 2010

Groups Work Together to Fight Hydrofracking

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Three months after a Dec. 1 campus protest against hydrofracking, Cornell and Ithaca College students continue to organize against gas-drilling in the Marcellus Shale region. While community and student organizations have been working separately so far, the organizations are planning collaborative action and campaigns directed at state leaders in Albany.

Since members of KyotoNOW!, Sustainability Hub, Pa’lante and the Ithaca community organization Shaleshock rallied on Ho Plaza, public action has lulled. Instead, KyotoNOW! has focused on communicating with Cornell’s administration.

Upset with Provost Kent Fuchs’ exclusion of undergraduate representation on the newly-created ad-hoc advisory committee that will advise the President on whether to lease land to natural gas companies in the Marcellus Shale region, KyotoNOW! has asked the Provost to meet with them. The advisory committee currently consists of six faculty members, four staff and one graduate student. While they have yet to set a meeting date, representatives will discuss transparency and undergraduate input in the University’s decision-making process, according to Fil Eden ’10, president of KyotoNOW!

Outside of Cornell, KyotoNOW! is beginning to build coalitional support to send a letter against hydrofracking to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is likely to run for New York Governor. The first in a series of letters to New York’s gubernatorial candidates, KyotoNOW! will draft a letter asking Cuomo to outline a specific plan for protecting water supply and air quality in the Marcellus Shale region. Once drafted, KyotoNOW! will reach out to city councilors, small businesses, local farms and landowners in Ithaca for support.

“[Hydrofracking] is an issue that is of enough importance that everyone has a stake in making sure that their air, water and roads are safe,” Eden said.

With the September’s primary still far away, KyotoNOW! has plenty of time to develop a strong letter. Eden says they will start gathering signatures at the end of March.

In addition to the letter, KyotoNOW! will begin a “Listening Project” fashioned after the mountaintop justice coalitions in West Virginia, which fight against strip mountaintop mining. Similar to the labor versus environment debate surrounding hydrofracking, mountaintop removal poses significant environmental threats to West Virginia’s water sources but simultaneously provides needed coal mining jobs.

Hoping to inspire discussion and awareness, participants in the project will knock on Ithaca residents’ doors and ask them open-ended questions about their knowledge of and feelings toward hydrofracking.

Eden said that there has not been much joint action between Cornell and other college campuses.

“We have not had anything to collaborate on. Once we go onto a more state-oriented level — the letter — we will have something to come together over,” Eden said.

Kristen McClun ’11, co-president of Ithaca College’s “IC Safe Water” club, hopes for just that.

Since attending her first Shaleshock meeting, McClun has shown informational videos about hydrofracking for interested students. She plans to work with fellow environmental and social groups, including the IC Environmental Society and IC Feminists, to organize around “natural beauty initiatives.”

“One group’s great, but a lot of groups are more powerful,” McClun said. She hopes to write a petition with KyotoNOW! to send to Albany.

When college students come together, Eden believes they can group within the infrastructure of Power Shift, an annual youth summit.

Power Shift is “fueled by young people across the country to demand bold action on climate and energy,” according to Energy Action Coalition’s website.

“A lot of people [dismiss social action] because they’re only here for four years. I want Ithaca to be an area that people can come to in 20 years from now and spend four years like I have in college,” McClun said.

While there have been educational panels on hydrofracking and its hazardous effects at Tompkins County Community College, Syracuse University and Binghamton University, Cornell stands at the forefront of student action.

Original Author: Margo Cohen Ristorucci