An Open Letter to Food And Water Watch

We have received this open letter to the Big Green environmental NGO, Food & Water Watch. It takes F&WW to task for taking credit (and money) for the activism organized by local people and groups.

"If the judge won't allow us to ban fracking, then we shouldn't listen to the judge." 5 Year old Sasha Willmeng speaking at a public hearing.

“If the judge won’t allow us to ban fracking, then we shouldn’t listen to the judge.” Six Year old Sasha Willmeng speaking at a public hearing.

From the Colorado Community Rights Network


March 18, 2015

Over the preceding years in Colorado the issue of oil and gas development and the community efforts opposing the inherently dangerous process have driven a state and national discussion.  The nature of the discussion has traditionally contested the possibility of  “safe” fracking, or the idea that oil and gas development can be conducted with a degree of responsibility. These talking points, which were originally argued by politicians of both parties and major national environmental groups like the Sierra Club, contended that better regulations of the oil and gas industry could provide adequate protections for our public health and environmental safety. These talking points were refuted by many in the scientific community, local people aiming to protect their municipalities, and by your organization, which has publicly called for a ban on the practice of fracking. We commend you on seeing through the false idea of safe fracking, and for promoting the elimination of the industrial practice altogether.

While we appreciate this position of Food and Water Watch, there are at the same time increasing areas of concern regarding your role in addressing the issue of oil and gas development, and how you identify the leading actors in the movement against fracking.

Colorado Governor Hickenlooper confronted by angry Coloradans after he threatened to sue any community that banned fracking.

Colorado Governor Hickenlooper confronted by angry Coloradans after he threatened to sue any community that banned fracking.

We feel that these concerns need to be publically stated as the failings in Colorado’s state government and its general neglect and hostility toward our local communities now requires an independent, honest, and clear discussion, while new strategies need to be created and employed.

It is the position of the Colorado Community Rights Network that the issue of fracking cannot be separated from the larger problem of the legal system that is exploited by the oil and industry to force fracking onto communities. This system of legal privilege has meant oil and gas industry lawsuits against Front Range communities recently delaying or banning fracking in places like Longmont, Broomfield, Fort Collins, and Lafayette. While these lawsuits may be new to many, they are not new to Greeley, Colorado, which had their ban on oil and gas activity overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court as long ago as 1992. We notice that in your literature and public statements, the full body of legal privileges owned and regularly employed by the oil and gas industry go without mention, which leaves a vacancy in the public understanding of the true depth of the problem, and which allows actions based on a superficial analysis. And as the same legal privileges have been used against communities attempting to protect themselves from a spectrum of inherently dangerous corporate activities, the omission has the effect of isolating the people and issues that could normally come together in a united front against fracking, mining, injection wells, GMO’s and other dangerous industrial projects.

Of an equal or greater concern is our experience with the long-standing pattern of fund raising emails distributed by your organization. In these emails, Food and Water Watch has regularly taken credit for the numerous bans and moratoria accomplished by communities through heroic local effort. While Food and Water Watch may have assisted

Residents of Lafayette, CO, celebrating election victory of ballot initiative banning fracking in their community. They are the ones who did this, not F&WW or any other Big Green group.

Residents of Lafayette, CO, celebrating election victory of ballot initiative banning fracking in their community. They are the ones who did this, not F&WW or any other Big Green group.

some of these communities at times, it is not the work of FWW that created these tangible local successes, but the work of volunteer community members fighting for their families, neighborhoods, and environment. We have read these fundraising emails for many years, and called increasing attention to what we consider misrepresentation of your organization as the engine behind local efforts fighting oil and gas development. This pattern is not limited to Colorado, and has misappropriated measures that have passed in California, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas, possibly among others. We contend that the credit and resources needed to build and defend our communities from the oil and gas industry must go to the local organizations doing the real work, and that Food and Water Watch promotions neglecting these genuine grassroots groups are both opportunistic and unethical.

There is an additional point on the description of the efforts against fracking that needs to be made. To the extent that Food and Water Watch claims itself as the force behind local efforts, this false claim will be gladly exploited by the oil and gas industry, that is only too happy to misrepresent the real local nature of the movement against fracking. Energy front groups like Energy In Depth have already begun to take Food and Water Watch at face value, and are helping to eclipse the communities behind the banner of national professional environmentalism.

We can do better than this.

It is the position of the Colorado Community Rights Network that the effort to ban fracking formally recognize that which we have already known to be true:

1. That fracking can in no way be made safe, and the practice has to be permanently banned.

2. That the authority for decision making in protecting the public health, welfare, and safety, and the advancement of the rights of individuals, communities, and nature, has to recognize the superiority of communities above corporations, and that where the law does not recognize this, it is therefore illegitimate and needs to be changed.

3. That the fight against fracking continue to be led and recognized as a grassroots movement, built by the volunteer efforts of common people in frontline communities. As such, these communities must be given direct credit for their efforts, so that the defense of their local laws and actions can be fully assisted and reinforced.

As our communities across Colorado continue to learn through our collective experiences with politicians, industries, and the corporate legal system that unites them all, the fight against fracking necessitates a civil rights movement. Like any movement, there will be differences in both analysis and strategy. And while these differences can be honored, we believe the above points of unity should be self evident, and offer them in an effort to build mutual aid as a means to end fracking, and the system that forces it upon us. As the movement progresses in its understanding and its reach, it is imperative that the elements joining it act both honestly and openly.


The Colorado Community Rights Network

Drinking fracked water: It will only be stopped by mobilization from below.

Drinking fracked water: It will only be stopped by mobilization from below.

Oaklandsocialist comments: The problem with the Big Green environmental organizations is that they are so closely tied in with Corporate America. Food and Water Watch,  for instance, is linked with Richard N. Goldman, Republican business man and husband of Rhoda Haas Goldman, member of the Haas family and heiress to the Levi-Strauss fortune. They are also linked to Roy Hampton Park, former co-founder of Hines-Park Food and former top executive at Proctor and Gamble as well as founder and owner of the communications conglomerate Park Communications. Park was listed as the 40th richest person in the US by Forbes.


Categories: environment, Uncategorized

15 replies »

  1. Regarding your comment that Food and Water Watch is linked to Richard Goldman: have you never heard of the Goldman Environmental Prizes? The Goldmans are not the enemy here.

  2. As an individual, grassroots fractivist here in California and someone who led a Credo and MoveOn petition campaign in 2013 against SB 4, a weak fracking “regulatory bill,” I would like to comment on this letter.

    1. While I have been a long time activist in LA, I knew nothing about fracking until I attended a Food and Water Watch open house in the fall of 2012 in which organizers gave a clear, comprehensive and compelling presentation. There have been local groups working on this issue here for years in Los Angeles, where we have the biggest urban oil field in the country. But Food and Water Watch was the first national NGO to take it on. Then several other national NGOs followed suit. So I would have to commend FWW for their early and leading role.

    2. By the spring of 2013, they and a couple other national NGOs, specifically Center for Biological Diversity and Environment California, came out strong in favor of the position you accurate state, that only a ban on fracking can prevent its harms. After a summit with several other national NGOs and a few other independent grassroots activists like me when they could not agree on a unified approach to fracking, i.e., ban versus regulation, they decided to form Californians Against Fracking, which now has over 200 organizational members. FWW served on the steering committee and played a leading role in organizing the various strategies CAF has pursued: birddogging our governor, Jerry Brown, everywhere he speaks, organizing rallies outside the hearings of DOGGR, the totally captured fracking regulatory agency, organizing constituency groups such as farmers against fracking, faith leaders against fracking, etc. and planning the two state wide rallies we have had in Sacramento attracting 4000 and 8000 people respectively.

    3. In addition, FWW has also been key in helping the local communities in the Los Angeles area organize, mobilize and strategize more effectively. It has only been since they got involved that these communities were able to shut down one facility and cause the operator to withdraw a proposal to drill new wells in another. Yet, in all of these efforts, FWW has always credited the local communities. Even today after fighting hard to get two LA city councilmen to introduce a fracking moratorium bill for LA, they have listened to the local groups with whom they are working who are telling them we need to stop ALL oil drilling, not just fracking. When I ask are we going to push for the fracking moratorium or work to change the zoning laws to prevent drilling 1500 feet from a residence or school, the phrase I have heard several times now from FWW organizers is “We are going to follow the lead of the local communities.”

    4. As an individual grassroots activist, I was the one who initiated the process of getting a ban on fracking in the city of Beverly Hills, the only California city to ban fracking so far. It was a campaign conducted primarily over Facebook, if you can believe it, between me and the Mayor of Beverly Hills. But when it came time to provide the language for the ordinance and the people to turn out at two city council meetings, FWW was the only national NGO that stepped up.

    5. Having fought this weak “regulatory” bill, I know very well about environmental NGOs who compromise and back bad bills. They say they do this to “get a seat at the table” but really it is so they can claim victory when these bills are passed. This way they can report successes to their members and funders and ask for more money. I have seen these organizations, one in particular, turn on a dime when their “friendly” legislator did not listen to them and made SB 4 so bad that they had to take their name off the bill in the week before it was passed. Then almost immediately they blogged “that’s why we need a mortatorium on fracking.” I found this particularly appalling since they did nothing to support the moratorium bill that was on the table the same legislative session. And I called them on it in a comment on their own blog. Another one of the sponsoring NGOs saw how successful my petition to get this legislator to withdraw SB 4 was with 20,000 signatures and started a petition in support of SB 4. FWW is nothing like that. While they like every single other NGO is loathe to take aggressive positions against bills by legislators they have to work with on other bills, they did get CAF to make a press statement opposing legislation “like SB4” before the bill was voted on. Furthermore, I check these emails very carefully, and I haven’t found the emails from FWW to be particularly self-congratulatory, and they rarely ask for money. Usually they are to alert members to a looming threat and an action they can take.

    6. While the community rights concept has been floated in Los Angeles and several workshops have been conducted, including one with Thomas Linzey himself, no effort to establish a community rights ordinance has gotten off the ground. Ironically, I think if FWW did back the concept, it could get off the ground. But I know that they think it is a long shot and one that would take way too long to help these sacrifice communities with their immediate problems. Like you said in your letter, there are many strategies that people are pursuing to get at the wider issues: community rights ordinances, getting money out of politics, even trying to end capitalism. And I work with groups pursuing each of these strategies. That said, the strategy that FWW is pursuing, trying to get local bans and moratoria, seems to be the most successful one. And as far as I have been able to observe, in the states where this has happened, they have been a major part of the effort.

    7. As to your point about how groups like Energy In Depth are going to position the anti-fracking movement, well, liars are going to lie. I get notifications from their Facebook page and make comments on much of the BS they disseminate. The fact is FWW, at least in California, has developed relationships with reporters from all the major papers. And they are able to get our side of the story inserted in many of the articles in these mainstream papers. As an individual activist who works on other issues besides fracking, such as net neutrality, the TPP and Occupy, I also know how to get coverage and speak in soundbites. This is something every NGO and grassroots activist can and should do. If you have enough local activists serving as spokespeople, you can put the lie to any claims made by astroturf groups like Energy In Depth.

    7. As far as the comment from oaklandsocialist.com, if this isn’t an example of guilt by association, I don’t know what is. Just because someone has money doesn’t mean they are evil. Unless you are able to provide examples of how these particular one percenters have used their money for evil ends like the Koch Brothers have, then you have no valid argument. Look, even the heirs to the RockefelIer Fund, run by the heirs of Standard Oil have changed their tune and divested from fossil fuels. It’s not like the scandal where the Sierra Club took millions from Chesapeake Energy to fund their Beyond Coal campaign. I know that FWW does not take money from corporations and is extremely picky about the foundations from which they accept money. I believe the Park Foundation, for one, has funded anti-fracking initiatives all over the country, including those led by grassroots activists. And not to be snide, but unless you socialists are able to finally get the workers of the world to unite, take over these oil companies and shut them down, then this effort to fight the most powerful and richest industry in the world takes money. FWW does a lot on very little, compared to some of these more sold-out NGOs, and I for one am glad they are out there fighting the good fight.

    8. Finally, I just returned from a visit to Denver and Boulder where I met with several committed local fractivists who each work with different groups. None of them complained about FWW. I was very impressed with the intelligence, the passion and the commitment of these four women. I know what it feels like to do a lot of work and either not be recognized for it or to have others steal the credit. All I can say is after having been an activist for many years, you cannot get hung up on credit. You get satisfaction from having the support of and recognition from your fellow fractivists and hopefully achieving the ultimate goal which is to ban fracking from this world forever.

    Lauren Steiner

    • Completely agree Lauren….the goal is to get a ban on fracking…it takes the efforts of a large number of people to do this. I don’t care who gets “credit”… to me is secondary to the goal. Egos needs to move aside and allow all to work toward the goal of a ban. FWW has been a boon to our efforts!

      • Carole makes a mistake when she implies that this is a matter of egos. Face the fact: any organizing needs both a public presence and money. When a national organization appropriates both from the local efforts, it weakens the grass roots organizing. As far as working together, if what Cliff writes is only half way right, then the problem is that Food and Water Watch is unwilling to truly work together with the local, grassroots organizers, at least in Colorado.

    • I completely agree John….united we stand….I don’t really car who “CLAIMS” credit….only that the ultimate goal of banning fracking occurs. The more people we have pushing for this the better. Egos need to move aside and allow action to go forward.

  3. Food and Water Watch is to grass root efforts as a lawyer is to a client. Sure, you can advocate on your own behalf, but most would agree that having the expertise of a professional is a critical first step in advancing your position. Do lawyers work for free? If Food and Water Watch chooses to solicit money from people of means, well, so be it. They aren’t advancing any agendas; they’re using that money to fight the enemy, oil and gas, who has lots of money. In fact, I say Food and Water Watch should solicit more money to equal the playing field in the fight against franking: case in point, Santa Barbara, or any community advancing a ban campaign! We are always out-monied!

    As far as “real work,” I know several Food and Water Watch paid employees that put in long days, nights and weekends writing, meeting, calling, emailing and presenting on behalf of the grass roots groups they support and represent. When we phone bank late into the evening, these folks are right there with us!

    Food and Water Watch did not neglect mentioning the efforts of La Habra Heights and Hermosa Beach California volunteers and groups in their recent wins and losses. And, as a volunteer, I am constantly recognized for my efforts, no matter how great or small that effort is. I find it hard to believe the grass roots volunteers in Colorado are bothered by whether or not they get enough recognition for their volunteer efforts and seriously call into question the intentions of the Colorado Community Rights Network group. Stop complaining and get out there and fight! We need to band together, not nitpick over things like this. My God, the oil and gas people will have a field day when they read this open letter!

  4. Here in N. Orange County…our neighborhood groups worked with the help of FWW…a fabulous organizer, Alex Nagy. In Yorba Linda we are working on a project to get at the least a 1,500 foot set back in our “fracked” neighborhoods.. We hope to motivate the neighborhoods involved in the areas of where the fracking is being done by canvassing door to door and informing the people of the dangers and consequences of these activities. FWW has been instrumental in helping to get these local community groups formed and have helped immensely with facts and ways of working to get the ultimate goal of an outright ban. There is no ego coming from FWW, only help and encouragement.

  5. A reply to Lauren here, as we, the Colorado Community Rights Network, are getting a lot of response on our open letter. For clarity, we are not the only ones raising this issue about FWW and their role, we are just the organization that authored this letter.

    1. On the idea that FWW took an, “Early” role in the fight against fracking. The first ban on oil and gas drilling in Colorado was enacted by the town of Greeley, Colorado in 1992. The Colorado Supreme Court found that Greeley exceeded the authority of a municipal government at that time and the law was overturned. People in just our state have been fighting oil and gas development, and a ban on that rather than just fracking, for at least 15 years longer than FWW existed. FWW regularly omits this fact.

    2. Food And Water Watch does create coalitions, and regularly convinces the grassroots groups to join these coalitions. In Colorado their first coalition was called “Protect Our Colorado”, which has now been renamed, “Coloradans Against Fracking”. The leadership of this first coalition was hand picked by Food And Water Watch. The community group East Boulder County United, which was the second Colorado city in state history that successfully banned oil and gas activity was refused a position on the ProCo steering committee. EBCU employed a community rights approach to banning fracking, which meant that we in Lafayette also educated people about the laws that forced fracking onto communities. Neither Protect Our Colorado nor its nearer form, Coloradans Against Fracking mention anything about the broadly established system of laws that force all manner of corporate projects onto communities. They are currently employing a lobbying effort against Governor John Hickenlooper, a paid spokesperson for the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, as their main strategy for banning fracking.

    3. Food and Water Watch does not credit local communities in direct and concrete ways, and has been fundraising through the regular and documented misrepresentation of themselves as the vehicle for local bans and moratoria. This is clearly visible in any of their regular fundraising emails and their websites that credits them with over 465 local efforts against fracking. Your efforts in Los Angeles have no local contact information, no websites mentioned, no Facebook accounts, emails or Twitter accounts. This is true, as far as we have seen, for all 465 communities represented on the national FWW website.

    4. Food and Water Watch does not just, “Follow the lead of the communities”. In our community’s formative months in Lafayette, Colorado, the FWW’s Western Regional Director Sam Schabaker regularly told us that an approach that dealt with the systemic reasons banning fracking was so difficult were, “Too radical”, “Unwinnable”, “Confusing to people”, and, “Impractical”. These talking points have been repeated by FWW through Schabaker for years to every major effort against oil and gas development across Colorado’s front range. After rejecting his arguments as superficial, and misleading, we won our ballot initiative by over 60% of the popular vote, the largest margin of any Colorado community to ban fracking. In doing so we joined over 180 communities nationwide that have created community bills of rights that do more that just ban harmful industrial projects, but that challenge the corporate legal privilege that force them upon us. We accomplished this with a 100% volunteer effort and a total campaign budget of about $8500. Food and Water Watch, through material contributions, consultations, and financial contributions accumulated a total gift to Lafayette of $473.50. Given their years of taking credit for our hard work since our victory, if we known more about their behavior we would have refused any gift from Food and Water Watch at all.

    5. Food and Water Watch asks for money from their membership in nearly every email they send out. They do so while citing the work of communities and crediting themselves with those efforts. Please ask Food and Water Watch for their national emails to document this. It will show exactly this pattern.

    6. You are incorrect when you say that, “No effort to establish a community rights has gotten off the ground”, in California. Mendocino County, California passed a community bill of rights in November of 2014 by a “Yes” vote of 69.52%. It prohibits fracking and established the rights to clean air, clean water, and the rights of the Mendocino County ecosystem. Food and Water Watch later cited this in their fund raising promotions with no mention of the groups responsible, or the nature of the ordinance. While other ordinances are copied on their national website, the Mendocino ordinance is not. And although you are correct in saying that Food and Water Watch regularly tells people that addressing the systemic nature of the fracking problem is, “A long shot”, nearly 200 communities across the country have successfully employed this strategy, making it perhaps the most established method of confronting harmful industrial projects in a binding, local manner nationwide..

    7. Food and Water Watch, by contrast, has led genuine grassroots into years of unsuccessful lobbying of the Colorado legislature. While they occupied no space at all in the fight to extend the moratoria in Boulder County that faced a possible 1800 new wells, the community hosted emergency community meetings aimed at building recall efforts and beginning the training for mass civil disobedience against new oil and gas activity. The same FWW Western Regional Director Sam Schabaker told me that, “There isn’t anything we can do”, in Boulder County during the initial phase of that effort. While we fought the County Commissioners, the Protect Our Colorado Coalition met with politicians. In the end we forced the reversal of the Boulder County Commissioners to end the moratorium, and our current moratorium extends for more than an additional three years. FWW has had no victories in lobbying the Colorado legislature, a strategy they are now recommitting to under the name,” Coloradans Against Fracking”.

    8. Additionally, Food and Water Watch does not have consistency on their proclaimed goal of banning fracking. In 2014, after refusing to work with the Colorado Community Rights Network on a mutual state ballot initiative that would address what is commonly called, “Local control”, of oil and gas drilling, the Colorado state ballot initiative that FWW crafted did not allow communities to ban franking, and did not even have the term, “Ban”, or “Prohibit” in its text at all. The first time anyone outside of their closed steering committee was allowed to read the language of their ballot initiative was when it was released by the Secretary of State of Colorado. Initiative 82 simply regulated where drilling would take place in communities. After COCRN (The Colorado Community Rights Network) pointed this out in very direct terms, they attempted to change the language of the ballot initiative, and finally withdrew the measure altogether. This cost ProCo coalition members over 10 months of organizing with no return.

    At the same time, the Colorado Community Rights Amendment, which does not exclude communities fighting projects from uranium mines, to injection wells, to cyanide leeching, to the creation of a local living wage was found to meet all ballot initiative requirements of the Colorado Supreme Court. Food and Water Watch labeled the initiative as, “Too radical”, Unwinnable”, and through their Western Regional Director Sam Schabaker, told people that the initiative could be used to illegalize abortions and women’s reproductive rights, end collective bargaining, gut existing environmental protections, and even outlaw not for profit groups. This was while in full knowledge that local laws enacted by the powers of the measure, ” shall not weaken protections for individuals, their communities, or nature provided by state, federal, or international law.”
    A legal statement from lawyers of over seven U.S. states contradicts these claims, which FWW still has not withdrawn or taken accountability for.

    9. Finally, you instruct us that we should not get “hung up on” credit for our grassroots efforts. But while Colorado communities continue to provide support for each other, always with respect to the difference in strategy, Food and Water Watch’s primary talking point is to take credit for our efforts, omit our names and organizations, and have ready and accessible hyperlinks so that the American people can donate to a multi million dollar organization. No organization is more hung up with appropriating credit. If this is something that sits well with you, then I am convinced there are few talking points that will convince you otherwise. In our view, it is not something that communities should either ignore, be afraid to address, of simply get over.

    The open letter is an attempt to publicly address what we see as unprincipled and damaging behavior by Food and Water Watch, while pointing to a greater possible unification of the movements for environmental rights and against the corporate legal system that mandates the destruction of those rights. In the letter we directly recognize Food and Water Watch’s contributions, but are also direct in the leadership role of the grassroots movement, and the building of a far more ambitious and realistic approach to address systemic problems. While the letter is addressed to Food and Water Watch, its hopes are ultimately more relevant to the underfunded, fearless, and tenacious people of our national communities. And it is to those forces, now starting to get a sense of their real and independent power, that we most ambitiously place our efforts.

  6. Uhm, I have actually have the opposite experience, while doing the interview for Univision, FWW asked me not to mention or credit them.
    The thing that troubles & saddens me is that each and every time an enviro group attacks another, dirty corporations and their allies get another leg up…

    • If that is Andrea’s experience, that’s good. Obviously, others have had different experiences. What is unfortunate is that she then goes on to imply that we should not be openly discussing our differences. It’s similar in the unions, in the movement against racism, etc. — differences will exist. We can sweep them under the carpet if we choose, in which case they will only continue to fester. The other result will be that those with the most power, money and connections will have their way and will run over others. Or we can bring the differences out in the open and try to resolve them.

      • I haven’t said we should not “discuss our differences” but there is a huge difference between discussing and attacking… there is always room for improvement in every organization, including FWW. But there is a time, place and a way to give feedback… that’s all…

      • Well, when you write an open letter and describe FWW as “Big Green” (fossil fuel companies use that term), it is clearly crossing the line. If you wanted to engage in a discussion, you would go about it differently.

        If you object to the way they fundraise, you should tell them, and perhaps even suggest a better way of doing it. But do it tactfully, not divisively.

        We have enough enemies in the fossil fuels industry, we don’t need to fight among ourselves. We need to create a stronger front…

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