New London Fights Fracking Waste

The New London City Council discussed and heard public opinions on a proposed ordinance to ban disposal of fracking waste in the city at their Feb. 6 meeting. Although an impermanent state-wide ban currently prevents fracking waste from being exported to Connecticut, local action, in this case, is essential. New London residents’ endeavors to bring this issue to public attention exemplify proactive attempts to make local change during a time of national turmoil.

Due to the absence of in-state shale deposits that would allow fracking and a current moratorium on the disposal of fracking waste in Connecticut, the issue may seem imperative to public concern. Connecticut’s moratorium on fracking waste, however, is set to expire soon, and the Director of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection has indicated that the ban will not be renewed. If fracking waste is exported to Connecticut, New London will be at risk of becoming a disposal site. This result would pose serious health threats to New London residents and would entangle the city in a problematic and harmful industry. For the good of the city, and most importantly, the wellbeing of the residents of the region, the New London City Council must pass the proposed ordinance.

The ordinance came to the attention of the City Council through the dedicated actions of concerned citizens, one of whom is Connecticut College librarian Andrew Lopez. Lopez and his peers in the effort managed to spread the word and rally fellow residents to an impressive degree, as evidenced by the fact that the meeting was so well attended that not everybody could fit in the City Council chamber. Recognizing the high attendance, Council members remarked that they wished every meeting would be so full.

Numerous citizens, including Lopez, spoke passionately in favor of the ban. In his testimony to the Council, Lopez read a letter from Douglas Thompson, Connecticut College Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Geophysics, that confirmed the harm fracking waste disposal would inflict on the city and the region. Arguments against fracking by New London residents included the adverse public health consequences of exposure to toxic waste byproducts, the negative impact disposal sites would have on the city’s ability to increase its tax base and the need for local government to take action on environmental issues. This last point is made more urgent by our current political circumstances, as the federal Environmental Protection Agency is seriously endangered.

The public’s opinion on fracking has greatly influenced how Council members view the issue. Councilman John Satti shared, for example, that he had not known much about fracking  before the ordinance came to his attention.  Concerned citizens who spoke at the meeting, he said, had educated him on the dangers of fracking waste disposal. All of the Council members expressed their support for the ordinance, and many tied their support to the passion of New London residents about the issue. As councilman Don Venditto, Jr. shared, “I’m proud to be part of a community that cares so much about community welfare.”

As the ordinance has not yet undergone legal review, the Council ruled to send it to committee before an official vote is held in the coming months. New London residents, however, maintain high hopes that the measure will pass. That hope is emboldened by the passion, commitment, and activism of local residents who care about an issue and want to be a force of change in their communities. During a time when many Americans believe that the federal government is not looking out for their interests or promoting their values, we must look to enact change locally. A focus on state and municipal government is essential to creating movements that ultimately impact federal policy. Believing that neither the federal nor their state government could protect them from the harmful effects of fracking waste, New London residents turned to municipal government as an avenue for change. As the presence of so many passionate constituents and the forceful nature of their arguments convinced all the councilmembers to support an issue that had not previously been on their radars, the Feb. 6 City Council meeting demonstrated the efficacy of this strategy.

It is our job, as citizens of cities, states and the country as a whole to stand up for our values and hold our elected officials accountable. If the state of our country is causing you apprehension, and the actions of the new administration affront you, think locally. Push your the government of your town or city, and your state, to address the issues you care about. Get involved with organizations doing important work in your community. Vote in local elections, and pay attention to what your elected officials do once in office. Call them; show up at their town halls; show that you are an engaged citizen who passionately cares about things. While we must all keep our eyes on events happening nationally and globally, we must also do the sometimes harder and often less glamorous job of being involved in our communities. Locally-led change directly improves the lives of community members and sustains an issue-based movement with the potential to promote wide-reaching change. Be inspired by the passionate New London residents who have already made change on an issue they care about and get to work. •