With environmental activists by his side and a verdant lettuce field behind him, Sanders used Wednesday morning to restate his opposition to hydraulic fracturing -- a process of extracting natural gas by breaking up the ground with chemicals. He has campaigned for a ban on fracking throughout the primaries, winning some parts of New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania where "fracktivists" have blamed the process for toxic drinking water or greater incidence of earthquakes.
But on May 27, responding to a lawsuit from environmental groups, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement jointly released a report that found only a minimal environmental impact from California's existing offshore fracking. On May 31, the bureaus announced a task force, which would include California's pro-fracking Gov. Jerry Brown (D), to assess offshore fracking opportunities. (In Spreckels, Sanders said he had not discussed the issue with Brown, who endorsed Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton this week.)
Clinton has not responded to the report, and there were no questions about it at the White House briefings since its release. Sanders rushed into the gap, criticizing Clinton for favoring international fracking as secretary of state, comparing the potential damage from fracking fluid to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and arguing for the Democrats' platform to call for a fracking ban.
"Offshore fracking has the potential to pollute the ocean with toxic fluid, and to harm our beautiful beaches," said Sanders. "That risk, to me, is unacceptable."
Sanders, who was given the chance to choose five allies for the 15-member platform drafting committee, gave one slot to the environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben. Earlier this year, McKibben wrote a lengthy feature story for the Nation that collated evidence that fracking was contributing to climate change and earthquakes, and arguing that Clinton -- while she could be "forgiven" -- contributed to the spread of fracking. "Today, the State Department provides 'assistance' with fracking to dozens of countries around the world, from Cambodia to Papua New Guinea," McKibben wrote.
In Obama's first term, Clinton's line on fracking was shared by an administration that was focused on reducing emissions. The 2012 Democratic platform, which never mentioning "fracking" per se, described natural gas as a relatively clean energy source.
"A new era of cheap, abundant natural gas is helping to bring jobs and industry back to the United States," wrote the Democrats of 2012. "Harnessing our natural gas resources needs to be done in a safe and responsible manner, which is why the Obama administration has proposed a number of safeguards to protect against water contamination and air pollution."
Language like that would be anathema to today's fracktivists. At the Spreckels event, Margaret Rebecchi, the Latino outreach coordinator for a Monterey County anti-fracking group, accused frackers of "environmental racism" against poor, non-white people.
"Secretary Clinton wants to quote-unquote, regulate fracking," said Sanders. "Well, I think it is too late for regulating. I think fracking needs to be banned from America... absolutely, the Democratic platform going into the general election should make it absolutely clear that the Democratic Party stands with the American people, stands with the people of California, for a ban on fracking.”