Early in my career, I was taught by my teacher, Stella Adler, that actors and artists alike have a responsibility to speak up on social issues. I took that to heart.
In 2010, living in upstate New York with my family, I heard about the possibility of fracking coming to our town. To see it firsthand, I traveled to the rural community of Dimock, Penn., with Robert Kennedy Jr. We met families who had had their lives devastated by drilling and fracking — the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rock to extract oil or gas. Drinking water had been poisoned, the air was polluted with toxins, and families described health impacts including skin lesions, clumps of hair falling out, projectile vomiting, terrible migraines and digestive problems. In some cases, tap water was so full of methane gas that you could light it on fire. I knew I had to speak up.
Over the years, I worked with people across New York state to stop fracking from destroying lives like it had over the border in Pennsylvania. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo listened to us and to more than 500 scientific studies showing the harmful effects of the practice. In 2014, New York state banned fracking, citing serious public-health, safety and environmental risks. Like many others in the fracking fight, I became increasingly aware of where the energy we use comes from and the need to avert a climate catastrophe by transitioning our energy systems to clean renewables as soon as possible.
While I have been a supporter of President Obama on his leadership in addressing climate change and other social issues, I have been gravely disappointed by his cheerleading for the oil and gas industry over his two terms in office. Unlike leaders such as Cuomo, who stood up to corporations to protect the health of Americans, Obama has wrongfully continued the toxic legacy of the Bush Administration’s energy policy, paving the way for fracking’s expansion.
Because of Obama’s complicity, more than 17 million Americans now live within one mile of drilling and fracking operations. These non-consenting victims of Bush/Obama’s energy policy have had their drinking water poisoned, their air polluted and their families made sick. It’s time they receive justice. It’s time for Obama to listen to their personal stories. To enable this, I made a film called “Dear President Obama: The Clean Energy Revolution Is Now” with award-winning filmmaker and National Geographic “Ocean Hero” Jon Bowermaster.
Click here for full coverage from Variety’s Hollywood and Politics issue.
The American public’s opposition to fracking is growing; 51% now oppose the practice, according to Gallup’s 2015 poll, vs. 40% the year before. It has become a key topic among Democrats in the presidential election. Bernie Sanders forcefully supports a national ban. Hillary Clinton, who as Secretary of State reportedly promoted fracking to multiple countries, is now supporting local and state bans and laying out strict conditions where it is already being practiced. While Clinton’s position is still well behind the science — such as calling natural gas a bridge fuel to renewable energy, a position that does not take into consideration its disastrous climate impacts, including significant amounts of leaked methane — her movement shows how significantly the terrain has shifted and how fracking will be an ongoing political issue.
Obama still has the time and the authority to do what’s right and not leave a toxic legacy in his wake. I’m respectfully asking him to watch my film, to meet with me and with families who have been affected by fracking, and to take action now to right this wrong. Along with hundreds of environmental organizations, I’m calling on him to direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to begin an aggressive series of investigations into the many cases of water contamination from drilling and fracking operations, similar to what the agency recently did in Flint, Mich., and to immediately ban all drilling and fracking on our federal lands.
Dear President Obama, the clean energy revolution is now. Will you join us?
Mark Ruffalo is an actor, director and advisory board member of Americans Against Fracking.