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We must keep local issues under local control

Javier Gonzalez.

Javier Gonzalez.

I am excited to be traveling to Indianapolis this weekend to represent Santa Fe as leaders of America’s cities come together to explore solutions to our communities’ most pressing problems. It’s an invaluable opportunity to bring the local issues that impact millions of Americans to the national stage.

It also raises an issue of critical importance: the pre-emption of local governments that is a threat to the safety, vibrancy and livability of our communities.

Last year, in at least 29 states, we saw bills introduced to block local control on a variety of issues. Here in New Mexico, it was a bill to stop local communities like Santa Fe from empowering workers with a living wage.

One of the biggest proponents of removing the power to self-govern has been the oil and gas industry, which stands to benefit immensely if it can stop individual Americans from deciding for themselves if fracking is appropriate in their neighborhoods. Fracking operators want decisions about their industry made at the state or federal level, but it is local communities that bear the brunt of fracking’s impact.

According to The Costs of Fracking by Environment America Research & Policy Center, in one part of Texas, the thousands of trips made by trucks and machinery for fracking operations have required $40 million in road repairs. Fracking has contaminated drinking water in thousands of cases. Residents near fracking operations suffer from a greater risk and huge range of health problems. And another town in Texas saw home values decrease in areas near fracking.

And it is becoming more and more common. In 35 states, fracking takes place in residential areas, near homes, schools and playgrounds. The Washington Post reports that more than 15 million Americans now live within a mile of a well that has been drilled since 2000.

Many communities take no issue with the practice. But, understandably, many others, weighing such heavy costs against so few benefits, have sought to ban or limit fracking in their neighborhoods. Over 500 cities and counties, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., have acted to bar or restrict the risky drilling practice or the disposal of its toxic waste.

This did not sit well with the oil and gas industry, whose allies in governments and the courts have fought aggressively to stop local communities from making this choice for themselves.

In Ohio, a Supreme Court decision overruled local drilling regulations. In North Carolina, the legislature acted to prevent communities from banning fracking. Colorado saw a major blow to local control when the state supreme court overturned the express will of local voters, striking down voter-approved fracking bans in two Colorado towns. In New Mexico, a U.S. District Court struck a ban put in place by Mora County.

Considering the serious health and climate impacts linked to fracking, it is vital our cities and towns are able to protect the public health and environment from fracking’s impacts if they choose to do so.

This notion of local control – that we have the right to come together with our neighbors and make our own choices on issues that threaten our public health or quality of life – is a longstanding American tradition.

With the national convening of cities’ leaders in Indianapolis this weekend, there is no better time to urge our state and federal leaders to affirm our ability to protect our health and quality of life, and reject attempts to limit local control of fracking and other threats.

Javier Gonzalez is mayor of Santa Fe.

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