Hydrofracking

Reed: Congress May Override State Fracking Ban

GOP Rep. Tom Reed on Friday raised the possibility of the federal government exploring ways of superseding Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to prohibit hydrofracking in the Southern Tier.

Reed, who represents the area of the state where natural gas deposits are especially rich, told Fred Dicker on Talk-1300 this morning the federal government could have the authority to overrule the ban, which will be formally put in place by the state Department of Environmental Conservation next year.

Reed compared the move to a federal telecommunications measure that overrode local zoning on the placement of satellite dishes.

“So the federal government could have a role here,” Reed said. “Obviously when we talk about energy, we’re talking about our energy security and that has national implications.”

Cuomo on Wednesday backed the proposal made at his year-end cabinet meeting to ban the controversial natural gas drilling process after Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker could not determine whether the practice could be conducted safely in New York.

Reed, in the interview, said he wanted to see the scope of the state’s fracking prohibition.

“I think it’s going to depend on how far the New York ban goes here,” Reed said.

He also criticized Cuomo over the ban, charging that it was a political decision.

“This is about presidential politics, trying to win a presidential primary,” Reed said. “Maybe he’s worried about trying to win a governor’s race four years from now.”

Siena Poll: New Yorkers Back AG As Special Prosector

A majority of New Yorkers support giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the power to investigate other instances of police brutality, a Siena College poll released on Friday found.

The poll found that by a 58 percent to 33 percent margin, New Yorkers would back giving Schneiderman the power of special prosecutor to probe other instances of police brutality after a grand jury chose to not indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

“A majority of Democrats, independents, voters from every region and race agree that the Attorney General and not local district attorneys should have authority in cases where unarmed civilians are killed by police officers, although Democrats, New York City voters, blacks and Latinos feel most strongly about this,” Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg said. “Only majorities of Republicans and conservatives think people of color are treated fairly by our criminal justice system. Two-thirds of Democrats and a plurality of independents disagree, as do a majority of downstaters, particularly New York City, and people of color. Whites and upstaters are closely divided.”

Scheniderman this month requested Gov. Andrew Cuomo issue an executive order granting him the special prosecutors role.

So far, Cuomo has said he’s reviewing the request, but raised questions with how broad the scope of those investigative powers should be.

The poll found that 55 percent of New Yorkers believe the grand jury should have made an indictment in the case, which has set off a wave of protests across the country and sparked a discussion over criminal justice reform legislation at the state level.

Meanwhile, most New Yorkers 52 percent to 35 percent believe the state’s criminal justice system does not treat people of color fairly.

Broken down politically, Republican voters by a 2-to-1 margin believe the grand jury was correct in not indicting Garner.

“Similarly, large majorities of Democrats, New York City voters, blacks, Latinos and younger voters want the Feds to bring civil rights charges, while Republicans are opposed, and upstaters, suburbanites, white and older voters are closely divided,” Greenberg said.

Cuomo himself has suggested he will push for a variety of criminal justice reforms, including greater transparencies for grand juries as well as strengthening police training and requiring some officers to wear body cameras.

The governor’s administration this week moved to ban hydrofracking in the state, but the poll found New Yorkers remain divided on the natural gas drilling issue.

Thirty-eight percent of voters say they are opposed to fracking, while 35 percent of those polled back the drilling method.

“Fracking has closely divided New Yorkers for several years. And while it has the intuitive partisan divide with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting, from a regional perspective the results might be a little counterintuitive as New York City and upstate voters narrowly oppose fracking and a plurality of downstate suburbanites support it,” Greenberg said.

Similarly, New Yorkers are split on the DREAM Act, which would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. Forty-four percent of New Yorkers back the measure, while 48 percent do not. Cuomo will likely once again be under pressure from liberals in the Legislature to include funding for the DREAM Act in his state budget proposal.

A broad majority of New Yorkers continue to support Cuomo’s two-year-old gun control law known as the SAFE Act, but they are split along partisan lines.

By a margin of 58 percent to 33 percent, New Yorkers back the law, which Cuomo has said remains a significant legislative achievement for him.

The measure has the support of 69 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents, 67 percent of voters from New York City and 61 percent from the downstate suburbs. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans oppose the law.

And not surprisingly, there is widespread opposition to a pay raise for state lawmakers: 63 percent of those polled do not believe the Senate and Assembly should receive their first salary increase since 1998.

That sentiment cuts across party, geographic, gender and ideological lines.

Cuomo has said he is sympathetic to lawmakers who are pushing for the pay hike from the current $79,500, but has sought to have them enact sweeping ethics and campaign finance legislation, including the creation of a system of public financed campaigns and curtailing outside income.

For now, there has been no significant move to have lawmakers return to Albany in a special session to take up that legislation and vote themselves a raise.

The Siena College of 639 voters was conducted from Dec. 11 through Dec. 16. It has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

SNY1214 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

Libous: Fracking Ban ‘Easy Way Out’

Republican state Sen. Tom Libous on Thursday blasted the move to put a ban on high-volume hydrofracking in place, but acknowledged it’s unlikely there will be a legislative response to the decision announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

“The state wanted to take the easy way out,” Libous said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

Libous, a staunch proponent of hydrofracking, called the decision to put a ban in place “very disappointing” — made all the harder after the state’s gaming facility location board declined to approve any casino resorts in the state’s Southern Tier (The one casino approved nearest the Binghamton area, Lagos Resort, is in Seneca County, nearer the Finger Lakes).

“It’s just very disappointing… we were hoping we could do this in a reasonable way,” Libous said.

The deputy majority leader of the state Senate, Libous is considered especially close to Cuomo despite their political differences.

Libous is also in poor health after undergoing another round of cancer therapy treatment and faces a charge of lying to the FBI in a case stemming from his son receiving a job at a politically connected law firm in Westchester County.

Cuomo himself has insisted he has had no role in the casino siting process or in the decision to ban hydrofracking, which came after the long-awaited review was released by the Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker.

“I hope he (Cuomo) didn’t have anything to do with the decisions or I’d be extremely disappointed,” Libous said.

Cuomo on Wednesday acknowledged the state’s Southern Tier needs a plan for economic development now that natural gas drilling, for now, is seemingly off the table.

“Fracking was one of our last hopes,” Libous said. “I’m not sure what’s next. We have to regroup. We’re hurting.”

Read The Health Department’s Report On Hydrofracking

The highly anticipated and long awaited report from the state Department of Health on the impacts of hydrofracking was released Wednesday afternoon after Acting Commissioner Howard Zucker announced he could recommend the process move forward.

The state will move to ban hydrofracking, based in large part on the findings of the review, which could not determine the health and safety of the process in New York.

The report found that hydrofracking “is a complex activity that could affect many communities in New York State.”

“The dispersed nature of the activity magnifies the possibility of process and equipment failures, leading to the potential for cumulative risks for exposures and associated adverse health outcomes,” the report found.

At the same time, review couldn’t determine with certainty that hydrofracking could be conducted safely, but did point to studies that found the process has been linked to adverse effects on water, air as well as causing earthquakes in some areas of the country where it is allowed.

The Health Department’s report found “the overall weight of the evidence” shows there are “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes” that could be associated with hydrofracking.

“Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF and whether the risks can be adequately managed, HVHF should not proceed in New York State,” the report concluded.

High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (1) by Nick Reisman

After Lengthy Review, State Moves To Ban Hydrofracking

New York will move to ban high-volume hydrofracking after a Department of Health review could not determine the controversial natural gas drilling process was safe.

“Would I live in a community with (fracking) based on the facts that I have now? Would I let my child play in a school field nearby? After looking at the plethora of reports behind me … my answer is no,” Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker told Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his cabinet.

The long-awaited announcement, given on Wednesday at meeting of Cuomo’s cabinet, is a significant victory for the environmental movement that has sprung up around the issue and will almost certainly be challenged in court by the energy industry.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said as a result of the Department of Health’s determination, a formal and “legally binding” ban on the process will be signed next year following a formal regulatory review process.

Cuomo predicted the move will result in a “ton of lawsuits” but indicated he was confident the state is on firm legal footing in putting the fracking ban in place.

In assessing whether hydrofracking would be viable in the state’s Southern Tier, the governor’s top environmental and health officials pointed to a June 2014 Court of Appeals ruling that upheld local bans on hydrofracking. With restriction already recommended by the state on hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale region, Martens said only 37 percent of the area would be viable for natural gas development.

At the same time, low natural gas prices have made hydrofracking not as economically appealing as once thought, Martens said.

Cuomo insisted that he had no role in the decision to ban hydrofracking, one that critics of the move will doubt given the governor’s reputation for being hands on.

Indeed, supporters of hydrofracking and critics of the governor pounced on the news.

“This study was a political charade from the start. Andrew Cuomo has given into the radical environmental Luddites in his own party to leave New York as the only one of the 35 states with extractable natural gas to be missing out on the hydro-fracking boom,” said state Republican Chairman Ed Cox.

But environmental advocates and hydrofracking opponents praised the development and took some credit for applying pressure on state officials.

“New York is worth more than the gas under our feet,” Working Families Party Director Bill Lipton. “Six years ago, the gas drillers told us hydrofracking was an inevitability. We believed in a better future for our state. Every New Yorker who spoke up, called their lawmakers, boarded a bus to Albany, signed a petition or put a sign in their yard deserves enormous credit. Hats off to the New Yorkers Against Fracking Coalition. When the people are united, there is no force that can stop us.”

Cuomo, however, said the outside forces, which he said was more “emotion charged” on the fracking issue than same-sex marriage and gun control, didn’t play a role in the decision to ban fracking.

“We didn’t rush anything,” Cuomo said. “We took our time.”

And Cuomo also said the decision wasn’t made based on politics, even as it was not made until after his re-election last month over Republican Rob Astorino, who campaigned in support of hydrofracking.

“It can’t be political because it came out after the elections,” Cuomo said.

Nevertheless, Cuomo acknowledged that the Southern Tier, which runs along the state’s border with northern Pennsylvania is in need of an economic boost.

Cuomo said that while the area is in line to receive a potential casino resort in today’s announcement, that is unlikely to help stimulate the needed job growth in the region proponents of hydrofracking say allowing the process would have brought.

“That is a legitimate question,” Cuomo said when asked about alternative economic development models for the Southern Tier. “They need the jobs.”

Could A Hydrofracking Resolution Come In 2015?

Come 2015, hydrofracking, controversial gas drilling process, and whether it should be done in New York State, could loom large in state politics.

The contentious environmental issue has been under review the entire time Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been in office.

In October’s gubernatorial debate, Cuomo said he expects a review of the impacts of the natural gas extraction process to be released by the end of the year, and that he’s relying on experts to help him make the decision.

Should he approve hydrofracking, even on a limited basis, expect a big push from environmental groups and from lawmakers who want to ban the practice entirely.

“If you’re in the Legislature, I don’t know how you go ahead and say yes to fracking when more health information comes out on a weekly basis,” said Peter Iwanowicz, Environmental Advocates of New York executive director.

Cuomo has been criticized for an ongoing health review that has been performed in secret with little public input.

“We’ve worked under the assumption that the governor can decide whether we’re going to frack or not at anytime. He can decide today. He can decide the minute he sees the health study, which he’s done in secret,” said Iwanowicz.

Supporters of hydrofracking, however, point to the economic benefits, especially for the economically troubled Southern Tier, where natural gas deposits are especially rich.

“These are benefits that our Southern Tier communities many of them are looking for,” said Karen Moreau, New York Petroleum Institute executive director. “They’re supportive of drilling and we’re hoping we’ll see this move forward in 2015.”

Moreau points to recent court rulings that have allowed local governments to set the agenda on fracking, suggesting the fight over fracking may be concentrated not in Albany, but on the local level.

“Frankly there’s been a defacto moratorium because of the executive’s decision, so I don’t see the legislature looking to do anything like that and most importantly the decision has mostly shifted to the local level,” Moreau said.

The health department’s review began in September 2012.

Q Poll: Fracking Opposition Hits New High

Forty-eight percent of New Yorkers are opposed to drilling in the Marcellus Shale due to environmental concerns, a Quinnipiac poll released this morning found.

That’s the highest level of opposition to the controversial natural gas drilling technique found by the Q poll since it has been tracking voters’ opinions on this issue.

The previous high was in March 2013, when 46 percent said they opposed fracking, while 39 percent were in favor.

In the poll released today, 43 percent of respondents said they support drilling in the Marcellus due to its potential economic benefits. Nine percent had no opinion on the issue.

Last month, New Yorkers were evenly divided on the drilling question, 44-45.

In today’s survey, upstate voters support drilling 48-44, while New York City residents are opposed, 55-35, and suburban voters are divided, with 47 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed.

Forty-one percent said they believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been dragging his feet in an effort to avoid a decision on drilling, while 20 percent believe him when he says he has been carefully evaluating the issue.

“New York State voters remain closely divided on the issue of natural gas drilling – or fracking – but opinion has been shifting ever so slightly against it,” said Q pollster Mickey Carroll.

During his (soggy) visit to the State Fair yesterday, Cuomo encountered a few anti-fracking demonstrators who actually yelled their thanks to him for the seemingly never-ending review of drilling that has become a de facto moratorium.

There were more protestors elsewhere on the fairgrounds, and they were visited by Cuomo’s Democratic gubernatorial primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout, and Green Party candidate for governor Howie Hawkins – both of whom have expressed opposition to fracking.

Cuomo later told reporters there was “nothing new” to report on the fracking front.

Last November, Cuomo said a decision on whether to green light fracking in the Marcellus would likely come before this year’s elections.

But that turned out to be was just one of a long string of “just around the corner” comments from the governor and other administration officials that have yet to bear fruit.

Joint Landowners Coalition Seeks Appeal In Fracking Lawsuit

A coalition of organizations that support high-volume hydrofracking announced Monday plans to file an appeal in their effort to force the state into making a decision as to whether to allow the controversial natural-gas extraction process.

The lawsuit, brought by the Binghamton-based Joint Landowners Coalition of New York in February, argued Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has wrongly delayed making a decision on hydrofracking.

“The denial of due process and the erosion of landowner rights should be of concern to all New Yorkers,” Joint Landowners Coalition President Dan Fitzsimmons, a resident of Conklin, Broome County, said in a statement. “Governor Cuomo and our New York agencies cannot be shielded by our courts when they fail to follow the law.”

New York has been operating under a defacto fracking moratorium since 2008 after Gov. David Paterson ordered the state Department of Environmental Conservation to review the impacts of fracking.

The state Department of Health started its own review of the health impacts by Cuomo, and there has been no indication when that review will be completed.

State’s Highest Court Upholds Local Fracking Bans

The state’s highest court upheld bans on hydrofracking imposed by local governments in a 5-2 ruling issued Monday.

The case centered on the rights of two communities — Dryden and Middlefield — to create local zoning restrictions on the controversial natural gas extraction process.

In arguments before the court last month, attorneys for the natural gas industry argued that noting in arguments that communities can’t prohibited entire industries.

“We think that this is really a very, simple, straightforward case that the courts below have really misinterpreted,” said industry attorney Tom West said in oral arguments.

But the ruling found the towns “engaged in a reasonable exercise of their zoning authority.”

At the same time, the court also stressed its ruling wasn’t on the pros and cons of hydrofracking itself, a process that is currently being studied by the state Department of Health for its impacts on human health.

The ruling on Monday by the state Court of Appeals holds up decisions by lower courts in the Dryden and Mayfield cases.

“At the heart of these cases lies the relationship between the State and its local government subdivisions, and their respective exercise of legislative power. These appeals
are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of New York, and we pass no judgment on its merits. These are major policy questions
for the coordinate branches of government to resolve,” the majority opinion found, written by Judge Victoria Graffeo. “The discrete issue before us, and the only one we resolve today, is whether the State Legislature eliminated the home rule capacity of municipalities to pass zoning laws that exclude oil, gas and hydrofracking activities in order to preserve the existing character of their communities. There is no dispute that the State Legislature has this right if it chooses to exercise it.”

A dissenting opinion written by Judge Eugene Pigott and concurred by Judge Robert Smith, found the towns exercised undue regulatory authority that sought to restrict a specific industry.

The opinion found that the towns “purport to regulate the oil, gas and solution mining activities within the respective towns, creating a blanket ban on an entire industry without
specifying the zones where such uses are prohibited.”

130 131opn14 Decision by Nick Reisman

State’s High Court Considers Local Fracking Bans

The state’s highest court on Tuesday heard two cases that could decide whether local governments have the power to block high-volume hydrofracking in their communities.

“I think the judges get the issues,” said Tom West, a prominent Albany attorney for the natural-gas industry. “I think as Judge Lippman said at the end they understand the policy arguments, it’s for them to decide.”

Lawyers in favor of upholding the bans on the local level insisted to the state Court of Appeals that the towns of Dryden and Middlefield are exercising their right to issue zoning laws.

“Both of these towns have long-standing zoning codes that do not permit any industrial activity,” said Debra Goldberg, a lawyer for Earth Justice. “This isn’t aimed at the oil and gas indsutry. What they’ve trying to do is clarify what the rules have been all along.”

The bans have been upheld in the lower courts, both lawyers for the natural gas industry have taken their case to the state’s highest court, noting in arguments that communities can’t prohibited entire industries.

“We think that this is really a very, simple, straightforward case that the courts below have really misinterpreted,” West said in oral arguments.

And they argue that allowing communities to set their own limitations on fracking could present problems.

“Are we going to let 932 towns decide the energy policy of New York state?” said attorney Scott Kurkoski.

The state’s judges appeared skeptical of the arguments from both environmental lawyers as well as attorneys from oil and gas industry.

“What can the municipality do in relation to fracking? Nothing? They have no say in what happens? The elected officials have no say what happens in that municipality? The elected official says there’s nothing they can do?” asked Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

Associate Judge Robert Smith zeroed in on whether a state law Dryden and Middlefield attorneys were pointing to expressly dealt with high-volume fracking, a relatively new drilling method.

“Assuming you’re right, the Legislature that passed this law was thinking about conventional drilling?” Smith asked.

On the state level Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the state to review the health impacts of high-volume hydrofracking. However that review is yet to be released, and no permits have been released for high-volume hydrofracking after the state has missed multiple regulatory deadlines to do so.