Lost amongst the din of this crazy election season has been the importance of environmental issues. In fact, as pointed out by Grist and D.C. DeWitt here on Plunderbund, only 5 minutes and 27 seconds were dedicated to climate change and other earthly topics during the three presidential debates — roughly two percent of the total debate time — and that was (obviously) only when Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was speaking.
However, in the course of such a divisive and negative election season, this neglect of environmental issues has trickled down to state and local races as well. For example, here in our own swing state of Ohio, an important environmental issue has popped up under the radar, and while environmentalists have taken note, politicians have not.
As reported by The Columbus Dispatch in October, the federal government has announced plans to auction off oil and gas lease rights for 1,600 acres of Wayne National Forest — Ohio’s only national forest — which would affect parts of Monroe and Washington counties and lead to fracking on a portion of those public lands. While oil and gas extraction has taken place in the forest for years, the U.S. Forest Service says the roughly 1,200 conventional oil and gas wells that are currently there are mostly small and non-active.
Of course, this potential expansion of fracking into the Wayne would be a game changer, because it could be the catalyst to allow more fracking on public lands in Ohio and across the country. Naturally, since fracking has been found to be harmful to air and water quality, attorneys for the Ohio Environmental Council are planning to appeal the decision before the government holds its online auction on Dec. 13, stating that the decision is “bad for wildlife, bad for recreation and bad for the overall health of the Wayne.”
Local environmentalist groups are doing their part to stop the auction as well. The Athens County Fracking Action Network (ACFAN) has made their stance clear on their website, stating that “potentially significant impacts [of fracking] must be considered with full public input [by federal law.] This was not done.”
Furthermore, ACFAN’s steering committee chair Heather Cantino told EcoWatch, “The feds apparently want to give away our forest, climate and communities to the fracking industry and will stop at nothing. [The National Environmental Policy Act] and science don’t seem to be relevant anymore to federal actions. This is a horrifying denial of science, law and justice.” For what it’s worth, the Bureau of Land Management — one of the main agencies handling the auction — isn’t leasing land in and around Athens County because of the amount of public opposition in the area.
In addition to ACFAN, an organization called The Ohio Revolution took their anti-fracking efforts to Ohio’s politicians, starting with our state’s junior senator, Rob Portman. The group held an action last week that put activists outside of Portman’s main offices in Ohio to hold signs and “encourage [Portman] to join [them.]” In an email to supporters, the group said Portman should “stand up for Ohioans who use Wayne National Forest for recreation and for all people who stand to lose because of runaway climate change.”
An official spokesperson for Portman’s D.C. office was on the campaign trail with the senator and could not be reached for comment before Election Day, but if you look at Portman’s donor list, you can guess whether or not he’ll be a “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist” Republican or a “drill baby drill” Republican. Portman’s fourth highest donor in the state (and eighth nationally) is the oil and gas industry, and they’re probably looking to get something for their money. Knowing Portman, he’ll likely give it to them.
But even if Portman chooses to not do the right thing (as usual,) concerned Ohioans can and should still help groups like the Ohio Environmental Council, ACFAN and The Ohio Revolution keep fracking out of our state’s national forests. Because let’s face it — if it can happen in the Wayne, it can happen a-gain. And that could lead to some serious fracking trouble.