The Backdoor Bid to Ban Fracking

A cadre of Democrats is banking on a key personal tie to shut down the drilling process.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 30: A protestor holds a sign during a demonstration against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building on May 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Dozens of protesters with the group Californians Against Fracking staged a protest outside of California Gov. Jerry Brown's San Francisco offices demanding that Gov. Brown ban fracking in the state. (National Journal)

In politics, it's not what you know, it's whom you know.

That's the logic a group of political insiders are banking on in a push to ban fracking in California, a state that appears on the precipice of a fracking boom.

A coalition of former advisers to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown is preparing to send its old boss a letter asking him to impose a statewide moratorium on fracking unless a string of scientific studies on the drilling's environmental consequences can be studied.

"As you read this, the oil industry is actively exploring the Monterey Shale and using unconventional, untested, and incredibly dangerous extraction techniques to squeeze more dirty oil out of California," the advisers write.

The group is headlined by Wendy Wendlandt, former national organizer on Brown's 1992 presidential campaign, and Michael Kieschnick, one of Brown's former economic advisers. In an email obtained by National Journal, the duo claim to have more than a dozen former Brown advisers on board.

The insiders may have a direct pipeline to Brown, but — barring a radical departure in policy — their letter is not going to convince the governor to ban fracking.

But it does underscore a continual tension within the Democratic Party over fracking, forcing its various factions to prioritize between the increased revenue it brings to states against the environmental risks — and controversy — of a massive, and rapid, expansion of fossil fuels.

Thus far, Brown appears to be seeking a middle ground.

The governor signed a comprehensive fracking policy into law in September and is currently overseeing key provisions in that law that are set to go into effect at the start of 2014. The law requires drillers to disclose more information about their fracking practices, and it calls for a study of its environmental consequences, but it fell far short of the binding regulations green groups were pushing for.