Shah’s Fracking Review Expected To Outlive His Tenure

Health Commissioner Nirav Shah decision to leave his post next month comes as his review of the health impacts of high-volume hydrofracking is still ongoing, with no end in sight.

Nevertheless, advocates on both sides of the controversial fracking issue expect the review to outlive Shah’s tenure at the department.

“The commissioner is taking a very thorough, scientific approach. The governor has said he’s going to make his decision based on that science and we certainly expect that work to continue,” said Conor Bambrick of Environmental Advocates of New York.

Shah began the review more than a year and a half ago after the state Department of Environmental Conservation missed multiple deadlines to set a permitting process for hydrofracking, a controversial process used to extract natural gas from below ground.

At the time, Shah said his review would be finished in a a matter of weeks.

Supporters of high-volume fracking say the delay has put New York at a disadvantage compared to other states that allow the process.

“If the state of New York couldn’t figure out that doing hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale couldn’t be done in a safe way, in an environmentally prudent way, then it’s never going to figure it out,” said Unshackle Upstate executive director Brian Sampson.

At the same time, little light was shone on what exactly Shah would review when it comes to the health impacts of fracking. The lack of transparency bothered both the energy industry as well as environmentalists.

“The commissioner certainly had his approach. We definitely would like to see more public involvement if and when this study is completed. We still haven’t seen the results of his work and we’d like to see what the department is going to produce going forward,” Bambrick said.

The news of Shah’s resignation, due to take effect in May, came as Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino called on the commissioner to step down in part because of the hydrofracking delay. In an online video, Astorino accused Shah of doing Governor Cuomo’s political bidding.

“The state health commissioner is doing Governor Cuomo’s political bidding in delaying a decision through his election, but isn’t the state health commissioner supposed to be the state’s chief medical officer, not a political foil for Governor Cuomo?” Astorino said.

A state official says Shah’s departure had been in the works for weeks and was unrelated to Astorino’s call that he step down. Shah, too, has insisted he was not taking directions from Cuomo when it came to the hydrofracking health review.

“He’s let me let science lead the way. He has not in any form impacted me and when I said I needed more time, he’s like, ‘okay, have more time,’” Shah said earlier this year.

Martens: No Plans To Issue Fracking Permits This Year

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens on Wednesday told lawmakers there are no plans to issue hydrofracking permits this year.

“We have absolutely no plans to do so,” Martens said when asked about whether permits would be issued this year.

Martens is testifying before a joint Assembly-Senate hearing on the state budget’s environmental spending.

Martens added there is no proposed spending in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget to regulate and permit high-volume hydrofracking.

The state has missed multiple deadlines to develop regulations for potential development of natural gas through the controversial natural-gas extraction process.

The state Department of Health more than a year ago began an impact study on the effects hydrofracking has on human health, but that process is yet to be completed.

Common Cause: Pro-Fracking Interests Spending Big

Despite a de facto ban on the controversial natural gas extraction process, pro-hydrofracking interests have contributed $15.4 million to political campaigns in the last seven years and spent nearly $48.9 million on lobbying state officials.

At the same time, those opposed to hydrofracking have spent far less: $1.9 million on campaign contributions and lobbying has totaled $5.4 million.

The good-government group Common Cause on Monday released a 68-page analysis of money spent trying to influence state officials on the issue.

Supporters of high-volume fracking argue that allowing the process would create jobs in the economically troubled Southern Tier region of the state, while a swelling environmental movement has raised concerns over its impact on water and land.

The money spent on the issue shows it’s time to enact some form of campaign finance and lobbying reform, the group says.

“Hydraulic fracturing has been one of the most polarizing issues in recent history, with no shortage of political money invested by pro-fracking interests to achieve a favorable outcome,” Susan Lerner, the group’s executive director. “The persistent and accelerated spending is cause for concern as lawmakers weigh this key decision. Yet despite being outspent by nearly 9 to 1, organized people have managed to overcome the advantage of organized money to make their voices heard. Nevertheless New York State needs comprehensive campaign finance and lobbying reform to assure New Yorkers that public policy is based on their interest, not the special interests.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has received the most of the statewide officials from pro-fracking entities, $994,150.

Senate Republicans, whose conference generally backs allowing permitting for fracking, has received $3.1 million.

In the Assembly, where Democrats have passed multiple bans on hydrofracking over the years, pro-fracking groups have given $1.3 million.

Sen. Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican and vocal supporter of hydrofracking, has received the most of any state legislator, $368,305, since 2007.

The state has missed multiple regulator deadlines to regulate and permit hydrofracking in New York, a process that is now part of a bankruptcy suit in state court.

Cuomo has said he wants the science to guide the process. The Department of Health is studying the health impacts of hydrofracking, a process that has been underway for more than year.

Deep Drilling Deep Pockets 2014–Final Version by Nick Reisman

Shah: Transparency On Hydrofracking ‘At The End’

The process of making a determination on whether the state will deem high-volume hydrofracking safe will remain behind the scenes, Department of Health Commission Nirav Shah said at a cabinet meeting on Monday, insisting the science behind the study will be done in a “sacred place.”

“The process needs to be transparent at the end, not during,” Shah said during a series of questions from Gannett’s Jon Campbell.

Shah said the details of the safety study will be revealed “when I’m done.”

The state Department of Health began reviewing the controversial natural gas extraction method in September 2012, but no determination on hydrofracking’s safety has been made, and the review has largely remained out of the public view.

Shah reiterated on Monday the science will guide the decision, adding that he’s received new information from other states in November.

“For the last few months, I’ve said that as the science evolves, we will reflect the science in my recommendations,” Shah said. “As recently as a month ago, we got new data from Texas and Wyoming and until I’m comfortable with the state of the science, I’m withholding my recommendation.”

The state has missed several self-imposed regulatory deadlines to make a determination on hydrofracking, either through creating a regulatory process for permitting or an environmental impact statement.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been criticized by the natural gas industry for the lack of speed on making a decision, backed Shah’s continued research at the cabinet meeting.

He also said it was “apples and oranges” to compare the state’s relative speed on, say, the construction of the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge versus the decision on hydrofracking.

“I want the right decision, not necessarily the fastest decision,” Cuomo said. “When it’s appropriate to move fast, we can move fast. I think we’ve shown that over and over again.”

The issue of sunlight on the hydrofracking process is one of the few areas of agreement between the natural gas lobby and the environmental advocates who oppose the method.

In Letter, Norse Trustees Make Final SGEIS Demand

Trustees for Norse Energy are making a last-ditch effort to force state environmental officials to declare a final end to the hydorfracking review process or be sued in state court.

Norse Energy announced in October it was filing for bankruptcy and shuttering its U.S. operations.

Late last month, trustees for the company announced through a court filing they were preparing to sue Gov. Andrew Cuomo, along with his top health and environmental commissioners, in order to release the supplemental generic environmental impact statement, a document known as the SGEIS, detailing the risks of high-volume hydrofracking.

The letter, sent Monday to state Department of Environmental Conservation Commission Joe Martens by Albany attorney Tom West, asks the state to provide a timetable within two weeks of when the SGEIS will be released or a legal challenge will be filed in the “very near future.”

Norse had filed 27 applications for permits to use the high-volume fracking technique in the Marcellus Shale.

The letter says that because of the fate of those permits was put on hold as the state missed multiple deadlines to finish the regulatory process, the company was forced to declare bankruptcy. Because the company needs to value to its outstanding debts and assets during the liquidation process, it’s pushing for a final conclusion to the SGEIS process.

Hydrofracking for natural gas is seen by the energy industry a potential boon for the upstate economy, especially in the state’s Southern Tier.

In opposition is an organized environmental movement that has been particularly effective in staving off fracking permitting in New York.

The state Department of Health began a review of the health impacts of hydrofracking earlier this year, a process that has not been completed.

Cuomo has said he would make a decision on whether to permit high-volume hydrofracking before next year’s election in November.

20131202 Final Martens Demand Letter by Nick Reisman

Report Casts Doubt On Fracking Jobs

A report released Thursday by a labor-backed group casts a skeptical eye at the number of jobs that would be created by high-volume hydrofracking in the states that include the Marcellus Shale.

The report by produced by several groups, including the labor-backed Fiscal Policy Institute, as well as the Parks Foundation, which has contributed to anti-fracking groups.

The study contends the number of jobs that will be created by granting fracking permits is far lower than the energy industry contends: Only four new jobs between the years of 2005 and 2012 for each new well in the Marcellus shale.

Statistically, roughly one in 795 jobs can be traced by to gas development in the Marcellus shale region, which includes six states.

New York has missed multiple regulatory deadlines for setting regulations for high-volume fracking and is operating under a defacto moratorium.

The state Business Council, a lobby group, said in a statement pushed back on the reports findings.

“Nothing has transformed the rural economies of Marcellus Shale states like natural gas drilling,” said Darren Suarez, director of government affairs. “Viewing job creation data on a statewide basis ignores the localized job creation benefit that drilling provides. The Public Policy Institute of New York State compared five Marcellus Shale counties in Pennsylvania with five Marcellus Shale counties in New York between 2009 and 2010 and found private sector employment grew. In the five-county Pennsylvania region encompassing McKean, Potter, Susquehanna, Bradford and Tioga, private sector employment grew by 4.7 percent, or 2,425 jobs, while average private sector employment in the five-county New York region Allegany, Steuben, Chemung, Tioga and Broome fell by -0.3 percent, a loss of 389 jobs.”

186088188-MSSRC-Employment-Impact-11-21-2013 by Nick Reisman

Lance Bass To Cuomo: Don’t Frack

Erstwhile N*Sync band member Lance Bass is urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to make hydrofracking illegal in New York.

In a video posted on YouTube today by the group Americans Against Fracking, Bass asks, “What the frack, Governor Cuomo? Fracking makes climate change worse. So please, make hydrofracking illegal today.”

The video comes as Cuomo heads to Buffalo for a fundraiser that is expected to draw protestors for and against hydrofracking.

The state Department of Health is still undertaking a review of whether hydrofracking is hazardous to human health, and no permits for high-volume hydrofracking have been granted in New York.

The state has missed multiple deadlines to put in place regulations for fracking, should permits be granted.

Squadron Latest Dem Lawmaker To Call For JCOPE Probe Of Cox (Updated)

Democratic Sen. Daniel Squadron became the second lawmaker in his conference to call for an ethics probe of state GOP Chairman Ed Cox and his ties to natural gas companies.

In a letter to Joint Commission on Public Ethics Chairman Daniel Horwitz, Squadron writes that Cox’s focus on hydrofracking and criticism of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s delay in making a decision on the issue should be looked into, given Cox’s investments in an energy company.

From the letter:

“Is Ed Cox using his statewide position as chair of one of the state’s two major parties to advocate on behalf of a corporation that pays him more than a quarter-million dollars a year — and of which he holds more than $4.25 million in stock? Does his financial interest pose a conflict of interest, and should Mr. Cox have to register as a lobbyist for Nobel?”

Squadron also references in the letter an editorial from The Daily Gazette of Schenectady that criticizes Cox for the fracking focus. Coincidentally, an email to state Democrats from the party’s executive director Rodney Capel referenced and linked to that same editorial. The email was released around the same time Wednesday afternoon as the Squadron letter.

“The fact that Republicans claim there is no conflict of interest is laughable,” Capel wrote in his email. “Cox has millions in cash and stock from a fracking company, while he tries to convince New Yorkers that he knows what’s best for our state’s energy future.”

Earlier this month, Buffalo Democratic Sen. Tim Kennedy wrote to JCOPE urging a similar ethics review of Cox.

If anything, the letters from Squadron — a downstater — and western New York’s Kennedy represent the start of some serious surrogacy work on behalf of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a year before he runs for re-election. Perhaps it’s no coincidence the attacks are coming from Senate Democrats after Cuomo has started to publicly break with their rival Independent Democratic Conference.

Updated: David Laska, the state Republican spokesman who is a busy guy today, sent a statement in response.

“Another day, another henchman dispatched by Andrew Cuomo with an ad hominem attack on Ed Cox. Meanwhile, it’s been almost a year since the Cuomo administration said it needed 90 days to complete their study on natural gas. Cuomo’s refusal to meaningfully address natural gas is symptomatic of his refusal to meaningfully address tax reform, Medicaid, mandate relief, education, pension liabilities and corruption. It’s no wonder that Republicans swept all seven County Executive seats last Tuesday, including in Andrew Cuomo’s own Westchester County.”

Updated X2: Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie is now taking on Cox, but in a different manner. He’s knocking him for the Malcolm Smith scandal, a day after former Bronx GOP Chairman Jay Savino pleaded guilty in the case.

With the former Bronx Republican Leader pleading guilty to bribery with the purpose of allowing State Senator Malcolm Smith to buy his way onto the New York City mayoral ballot, New Yorkers deserve to know what State Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox knew about this corrupt scheme.

As the chair of the state party, Ed Cox was responsible for padding the GOP ticket. It is plausible and necessary to ask whether or not the county Republican chairs worked together with the state party in a crooked ploy to swindle New Yorkers. New Yorkers deserve to know if Ed Cox was elbow-deep and in collusions with the Bronx Republican Leader.

We are entitled to the truth. The action of the Bronx Republican Leader raises alarming questions into the dealings of the State Republican Party.  How deeply entrenched is Ed Cox in the Backroom Boy’s Club of corrupt political cronies who attempted to dupe New York City voters?

The full letter can be read below and after the jump.

More >

Gianaris Doubts GOP’s Fracking Strategy Will Work

Count Sen. Mike Gianaris as a skeptic when it comes to the state Republican Party planning to use Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hesitation on making a decision on whether to allow high-volume hydrofracking.

The New York Post reported today that Republican Chairman Ed Cox next year will use the hydrofracking issue as a pressure point on Cuomo, who is running for re-election.

Cuomo is yet to make a final decision on whether to allow the controversial natural-gas drilling process. After the state missed multiple regulatory deadlines, Cuomo earlier this year threw the fracking ball to the state Department of Health, which is yet to release its own report on whether fracking poses a threat to human health.

Gianaris, a Queens Democrat and the leader of the conference’s campaign committee, told me in a phone interview that the move is a miscalcuation, especially as polls show voters are drifting toward opposes fracking.

“It just seems so out of step with the rest of the state,” he said. “If Ed Cox wants to bring Dick Cheney’s brand of politics to New York right now I don’t think he’ll have any takers.”

Opposition to hydorfracking has aroused a fervent environmental movement that has been pressuring Cuomo to firmly state his opposition to hydrofracking. Cuomo has insisted that while he recognizes the potential economic benefits of natural gas drilling, he wants science to make a final determination.

“The people of the state of New York want the state to move slowly to determine if the sceince justifies the drilling,” Gianaris said. “It’s clear the person who is out of step with what New Yorkers want is Ed Cox.

David Laska, a spokesman for the state Republican Party, responded that Cuomo played politics by not making a decision on fracking.

“No amount of shallow partisan barbs can change the fact that at every turn, Andrew Cuomo has put his own political interest ahead of promoting real economic growth in New York State,” Laska said. “We remain the most taxed, most regulated, least business-friendly state in the Nation with the highest debt per capita – just like we were when Cuomo took office.”

Spinning The Fracking Poll

As usual, the latest public opinion poll question on whether New York should allow high-volume hydrofracking resulted in responses from those on either side of the highly contentious issue.

The poll today found more voters surveyed are looking askance at the drilling method, with 45 percent of voters opposing hydrofracking while 37 percent back the process, the poll found.

The split is the largest plurality recorded by Siena for those against hydrofracking.

Naturally, New Yorkers Against Fracking applauded the news:

“Despite an onslaught of gas industry propaganda, the more New Yorkers look at the science, health risks and bad experiences of our neighbors in Pennsylvania, the more they oppose fracking,” the group said in a statement. “By significant margins, New Yorkers want Governor Cuomo to ban fracking because they know it poisons our water, pollutes the air and makes people sick. New Yorkers are opposed to fracking – including 52-34% upstate – because the science shows that fracking poisons people and cannot be done safely, and they know it will permanently damage New York.”

The survey results come as the state Department of Health continues to review whether the process has an impact on human health.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he understands the concerns of the business community when it comes to natural gas development, but also says he wants to make sure the drilling method is safe before permits are issued.

The state has had a de facto ban on high-volume hydrofracking for the last five years. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has missed multiple self-imposed regulatory deadlines, but has said it would issue permits should the DOH deem the process safe.

For the energy lobby, the high unemployment in the Southern Tier, where fracking is being eyed, outweighs the polling on the issue.

“New Yorkers should be concerned about this number: There are 15,300 people out of work in Broome, Tioga, Chemung and Steuben counties, where natural gas development would take place,” said Independent Oil and Gas Association spokesman Jim Smith. “This isn’t a sample. This is reality. We should survey these people. We are ignoring the real science on this issue, watching businesses leave New York, and we are blowing the best economic opportunity to come to this state in decades.”