How celebrities helped rattle N.Y. politics — and launch a new movement

Colin Sullivan, E&E reporter — EnergyWire


Debra Winger

Debra Winger. Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.

…Of these celebrities, Winger, a three-time best actress nominee at the Academy Awards, has been singled out as first to the party on the issue, though Ruffalo might be a close second. Winger was instrumental in helping to gain startup-style attention before the 2010 Sundance Film Festival for “Gasland,” the Oscar-nominated documentary about the natural gas industry, and has since been heavily involved in demanding the Cuomo administration keep fracking out of the Empire State.

Yet Winger and others insist their anti-fracking movement isn’t about celebrity or capitalizing on fame. She says she is not an environmentalist and would have preferred to stay out of politics altogether, partly due to the perception that celebrities with too much time on their hands (or too little information) get involved with pet causes out of vanity.

“The celebrities who have really been drawn into this fight have all been residents,” he said. “You’re talking about New York City’s watershed. That’s a lot of celebrities.”

The story behind how Ruffalo got dialed into the movement, which Fox said is driven mostly by regular citizens, is similar. Ramsay Adams, founder and executive director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, an upstate conservation group, said he approached Ruffalo at a diner in Callicoon, N.Y., and got him to join a trip to Dimock, Pa., with environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in 2010.

What Ruffalo saw in Dimock, whose residents have claimed illness due to shale gas extraction, was good enough to get the actor on board, Adams said. He believes this was in part due to Ruffalo’s energy but also because at the time there was a bit of a dip in activist motivation after failures in Congress to enact a national climate change policy.

“He lives [in Callicoon] full time,” Adams said of Ruffalo, in reference to the Catskills community on the Delaware River. “He’s got kids and a family, and they were in school nearby. He eventually said, ‘Let me know what I can do.’”

Adams added: “It was really fertile ground for the rebuilding of a grass-roots movement. That’s really the message about what fracking has done. I see it as the fight over extreme energy and climate.”

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