Last week, my friend Tara Zrinski was sworn into office as Northampton County Councilwoman. I have worked with Tara for several years, as she has led the local fight for a renewable energy future as the Lehigh Valley Local Coordinator for Food & Water Watch, and I’m excited to see her continue this fight as an elected official.
Tara’s victory is a win for the Lehigh Valley environmental movement, and an important step towards sustainability for Northampton County. But it’s also a model for how our movement can build power through elections.
People around Pennsylvania are angry about the direction that the so-called leaders in Harrisburg are taking our state. As the fracking industry has occupied our state for over a decade, more and more Pennsylvanians are seeing through the lies that oil and gas drilling is about enriching families. They understand the industry is exploiting communities at every step of the fossil fuel life cycle. Many of those people are getting organized, working at the grassroots to fight fracking wells, seismic surveys, pipelines, compressor stations, and cracker plants.
But when that grassroots power is being directed towards decision-makers who are unwilling to stand up for their communities, we need to take the next step. We need to fire the elected officials who are more responsive to the fracking industry than they are to their communities, and we must replace them with our movement’s leaders.
For years, Tara has worked to protect her community from the PennEast pipeline, which is proposed to run through the Lehigh Valley as it takes fracked gas from northeast Pennsylvania across the Delaware River and into New Jersey. Along with leaders of communities up and down the pipeline route, Tara has fought hard to stop this dangerous pipeline. And they have had tremendous success: The pipeline has faced significant delays, as landowners and other stakeholders on both sides of the Delaware have stood up to the corporations behind the PennEast project.
It was during this fight that Tara realized she could do more than just educate local elected officials along the pipeline route. She knew she had the experience and skill to get herself elected, and the leadership skills necessary to govern. So, Tara launched her campaign for Northampton County Council.
Tara’s campaign was centered around stopping the pipeline and moving the region to a sustainable future. She combined these bold positions with the strongest field program among the 10 candidates vying for five positions. She knocked on thousands of doors, and coordinated a team that knocked on thousands more. The political arm of Food & Water Watch, Food & Water Action, endorsed Tara’s campaign and provided air support, emailing and texting our supporters to educate them about Tara’s candidacy, and reminding them to vote.*
When ballots were counted on election day, Tara cruised to victory, winning the second-highest vote total of all candidates in the field.
So today, I write to congratulate Councilwoman Tara Zrinski, and I look forward to working to support her efforts to keep fracking pipelines out of Lehigh County, to build renewable energy in the region, and to protect the region’s water from irresponsible land use practices.
Tara joins a set of new local elected officials who ran campaigns centered around protecting their community from fossil fuel infrastructure. We look forward to working with new Allegheny County Councilwoman Anita Prizio to ban fracking on county lands, helping new Uwchlan Township Supervisors Bill Miller and Mayme Baumann stop the Mariner East 2 pipeline from running through their community, and working with an entirely new majority of Councilmembers in Jessup Borough to protect their community from what would be the largest gas-fired power plant in the country.
These victories aren’t accidents; they represent a trend of communities standing up to protect themselves using all tactics and strategies available, including elections.
*After announcing her campaign, Tara stepped away from her work with Food & Water Watch, and while Food & Water Action endorsed her candidacy, we did not coordinate.