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Sara Innamorato Upends Fracking Politics in Pennsylvania

A resounding victory in the primary race to be the next Allegheny County Executive shows that bold candidates can defy conventional wisdom by taking on the fossil fuel industry in its own backyard.

Sara Innamorato celebrates after winning the election to for Alleghenny County Executive on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.,Photo: Benjamin B. Braun/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette // Common Dreams

Pundits and political insiders have spent years warning candidates in Pennsylvania that taking on the fracking industry means certain defeat. Those of us who live here know better. We aren’t afraid to fight corporate polluters—and we are showing that doing so is a winning strategy.

Sara Innamorato’s resounding victory in the primary race to be the next Allegheny County Executive shows that bold candidates can defy conventional wisdom by taking on the fossil fuel industry in its own backyard. And they are succeeding thanks to powerful grassroots organizing that reaches voters directly.

This county executive is one of the most powerful positions in the state—arguably the second- or third-most powerful office in Pennsylvania. The outgoing executive, Rich Fitzgerald, made a name for himself by being an unwavering ally of the drilling industries. Fracking was welcome in our county.

Those of us who live here know that what the industry promises—jobs and economic prosperity—is little more than a mirage. The jobs are few, the profits are siphoned away by executives and Wall Street investors, and we are left with air and water pollution, degraded property values, and a wide range of health problems.

That’s why we organize on the ground in communities that are being targeted for drilling. We have developed strategies that use local zoning ordinances to keep the frackers away from our schools and neighborhoods. Last year, we defied all the odds – and County Executive Fitzgerald’s veto—by banning fracking in all of our county parks. Next up: banning fracking countywide.

Our movement is unquestionably bolstered when leaders like Sara Innamorato wield their own political power to stop the fossil fuel industry. And she is not alone. Summer Lee was a community leader in the fight to stop a fracking well in Braddock - the town famously synonymous with its former mayor ( and current U.S. Senator) John Fetterman. In 2018, Lee ran a successful campaign for a State House seat, part of a wave of bold climate champions (including Sara Innamorato) that we helped send to Harrisburg that year.

They arrived in a state capital that has historically been controlled by dirty energy interests. But they pushed for bold climate legislation that would keep fracking in check and help build a green economy that works for everyone. Innamorato championed the Whole-Home Repair Act, a first-in-the-nation program that provides grants and loans to bolster energy efficiency, along with workforce development programs to create jobs in communities across the state.

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In 2021, Summer Lee decided to run for a Congressional seat representing Allegheny County. Outside interests poured millions into the race, inundating mailboxes and clogging the airwave with outrageous attacks. But big money was no match for the people power that Lee and grassroots organizers have built; she won the primary and the 2022 general election.

Innamorato blazed a similar trail this year, with a fiery campaign that attracted dedicated volunteers eager to get the word out. For our part, Food & Water Action knocked on 40,000 doors, made thousands of texts and phone calls, and even wrote over 1,500 letters to voters.

This is the model for building political power—in Pennsylvania and anywhere else. Community organizing is rarely glamorous work, but it’s the only way to develop deep connections with folks who are quite literally on the frontlines. In Allegheny County and across the country, that means going to council meetings and community get-togethers with neighbors who want to stop fracking near their kids’ school. It means showing up to support families who have lost their water, or whose lives have been turned upside down by illnesses they suspect are connected to the drilling in their neighborhoods.

We cannot always give people the comfort they need. But we give them the respect they deserve, and empower them to fight back. And when we work to elect candidates like Sara Innamorato, we bring all of our voices into the halls of power—which strikes fear into the hearts of the fracking bosses who wish we would just go away.

No chance. We’re just getting started.

[Megan McDonough is the Pennsylvania state director at Food & Water Action, the political arm of the advocacy group Food & Water Watch.]

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