Martens On Fracking Secession: ‘I Can Understand The Disappointment’

As some in the Southern Tier contemplate a secession effort following the state’s move to ban hydrofracking, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens acknowledged landowners “lost an opportunity” to develop natural gas, but added that safety was paramount in the state’s decision.

Martens in December announced he would begin the regulatory process that would ban high-volume fracking in the state following a Department of Health review that conclude the controversial natural gas drilling process was not safe.

The decision came the same day a casino siting board did not award any licenses to projects in the Binghamton area.

Combined with the region’s generational struggle to expand economically, some officials are backing an effort for communities to peel off and join neighboring Pennsylvania, where hydrofracking is permitted.

But Martens noted in an interview set to air this evening on Capital Tonight that region itself is split on fracking.

“The communities in the Southern Tier are very split,” Martens said. “Some have invited fracking, others have proposed moratoriums or enacted moratoriums. The towns are all over the place, but individual landowners have lost an opportunity to benefit from a resource that’s deep under the ground, beneath their property. I can understand the disappointment. But frankly, the health and safety of New Yorkers is our first concern.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $142 billion budget proposal does have some potential benefits for the area, including farmland initiatives as well as a chance to win economic development grant money from a new regional competition, Martens added.

Meanwhile, state gaming regulators have started a new bidding process for awarding a fourth casino license to a Binghamton-area project.

Collins Hopes To Prove Cuomo Administration Wrong On Fracking

Western New York Congressman Chris Collins has made no secret of the fact he’s unhappy with the Cuomo Administration’s stance on hydrofracking.  As the Clarence Republican enters his second term, he’s hoping to use a more prominent role in the 114th Congress to prove the Governor got it wrong.

“Economically New York State needs to be hydrofracking and certainly in the Southern Tier the benefits would be tremendous,” said Collins.

House Speaker John Boehner assigned Collins to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that includes spots on three subcommittees: Health, Communications and Technology, and Oversight and Investigations.

“I want to make sure we have hearings that highlight the safety and the economic impact of hydrofracking around the country, whether it’s in North Dakota or Texas so I can bring facts forward to show that the Governor made the wrong decision,” Collins said.

Following suggestions by fellow GOP Congressman Tom Reed that the federal government could have the authority to overrule the anticipated ban, Collins’ call for hearings could signal a concerted effort to undermine the findings of the state DEC and the Department of Health.

“I’m going to use my role on Energy and Commerce to make sure Western New York has a very active role here in DC,” he said. 

Far removed from the freshman who accidentally showed up at a Democratic Congressional breakfast in 2012, Collins is hoping to take on more of a leadership role in the New York Congressional Delegation.  He’s also offered his help to the NRCC in 2016.

“Typically your first re-elect is your toughest so I’ve already stepped forward to say I would like to use my resources to help our members get re-elected and I’ll just do what I can to make them feel welcome.  I know where I was two years ago, kind of a deer in a headlight drinking out of a fire hydrant,” Collins added.

Collins is now one of eight New York Republicans in the House of Representatives.  That could increase to nine if the GOP can hold on to the seat left vacant by former congressman Michael Grimm.     


Gibson Breaks With GOP Colleagues, Sides With Cuomo on Fracking

From the Morning Memo:

Many Republicans have been criticizing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to move ahead with a fracking ban in New York, but Rep. Chris Gibson is not one of them.

“I do support the studies that have come forward here,” said Gibson, whose successful campaign for re-election in NY-19 included a battle over fracking (and contributions from those who support it) with his Democratic challenger, Sean Eldridge.

“…I’ve looked at the science here, and I have intuition, and I’m not surprised by the results of this study,” the congressman said.

“I think we should have reason for caution when it comes to fracking. I guess that would mean that I disagree with comments that this is political, because I believe the science, this is what it points to.”

The congressman, a 24-year veteran of the US Army, compared fracking and its potential public health risk to the use by the military of Agent Orange during Vietnam, and also the once-legal dumping of PCBs into the Hudson River.

“No one thought we were poisoning our own service men and women and the Vietnamese people…turns out we were,” Gibson said. “…I always wanted us to proceed with caution here. We have science now that points into not doing this. I think we need to listen.”

That said, the congressman noted, there were landowners who were expecting to profit from a potential fracking boom, and the state needs to look into compensating them.

Gibson’s GOP colleague, Rep. Tom Reed, who represents the Southern Tier, has made a similar call. Reed also has suggested the federal government could overturn New York’s fracking ban, which is further than Gibson is willing to go.

“I disagree with my friend, Tom Reed, because, as you know, I’m a believer of home rule,” Gibson said. “I believe in empowering states and localities, families and individuals.”

“…I think that we haven’t even exhausted here in the state working with the governor’s team. I would hope he would be open (to compensating local landowners.”

Gibson stressed that the state needs to come up with a viable economic development plan for the Southern Tier, which the governor has pledged to do.

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.