The Fracking Ban, One Year Later

From the Morning Memo:

A year ago last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top health official, Howard Zucker, announced he could not support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York state.

With that, the controversial natural gas drilling process known as hydrofracking was put on the indefinite backburner.

A year after the administration moved to ban tracking, environmental groups continue to praise Cuomo’s increasingly pitched push on combating climate, while business groups lament what could have been for the Southern Tier of the state.

The move by the Cuomo administration, finalized in March by the Department of Environmental Conservation, was praised by environmental groups.

“It demonstrated that when you really organize and get thousands of people together to come out for something, you can really accomplish a lot,” said Roger Downs, the Sierra Club Executive Director.

Environmental advocates hope Cuomo continues on the same path. In the months after the fracking ban, Cuomo has forcefully advocated for alternative energy sources as a way to combat climate change.

“We’re certainly hoping he remains consistent,” Downs said. “We know the governor has made a real committment to reducing greenhouse gases. He wants to make New York a climate leader. I think he recognizes that embracing fuels, we want to lead.”

Not everyone is happy with the decision. Business groups blasted the fracking ban. The Southern Tier region, where natural gas deposits are rich and high-volume fracking would have been used, continues to have a high unemployment rate compared to the rest of the state.

“We weren’t seeing much activity at the time, so it didn’t oppress anything that was occurring. What we did see was a lot of air sort of come out of the Southern Tier. I think the Southern Tier there’s a feeling of being neglected. That was very evident,” said Darren Suarez, Business Council government affairs director.

While natural gas drilling has been shown to produce a flood of jobs in states like Pennsylvania and the Dakotas, the abundance of the energy source has led to a slow down in drilling.

“The value has really come out of the market considerably, and drilling has really slowed down as a result of it,” Suarez said.

Supporters of hydrofracking point to federal data from the Obama administration that suggests fracking could be performed safely and note New York officials haven’t ruled out revisiting the ban in the future.

“There certainly is ample evidence to indicate you can drill safely in New York,” Suarez said. “The EPA subsequently to New York’s decision issued a report that said just that, so there’s real hope.”

DEC Moves To Formally Ban Hydrofracking

The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Monday moved to official prohibit high-volume hydrofracking in the state, issuing a formal “findings statement” that ends a seven-year review of the controversial natural gas-extraction process.

“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated. This decision is consistent with DEC’s mission to conserve, improve and protect our state’s natural resources, and to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state.”

The findings statement, a 43-page document posted to the DEC’s website on Monday afternoon, formalizes a ban on the process, which uses a mixture of chemicals and water to release below-ground natural gas.

“In the end, there are no feasible or prudent alternatives that would adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts and that address the scientific uncertainties and risks to public health from this activity,” the DEC wrote in the document.

The move is not a surprising one, given that Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December embraced the findings of a Department of Health report that concluded there was no guarantee fracking could be performed safely in the state.

The move to ban fracking in the state by the Cuomo administration was hailed as a major victory for the environmental movement that had sprung up in protest of the process, but was also to the bitter disappointment of the natural gas industry and landowners who could have benefited from granting permits.

“New Yorkers can celebrate the fact that we won’t be subjected to the toxic pollution and health risks fracking inevitably brings,” said Alex Beauchamp of New Yorkers Against Fracking. “By banning fracking, Governor Cuomo stood up to the oil and gas industry, and in so doing became a national leader on health and the environment. He set a standard for human health and safety that President Obama and other state leaders should be striving for.”

findingstatehvhf62015.pdf by Nick Reisman

DEC Releases Final Hydrofracking Review

The Department of Environmental Conservation on Wednesday afternoon released its finalized review of hydrofracking, a long-sought document that signals the start of the formalized move toward a ban on the controversial natural-gas extraction process.

The document, known as the Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, concludes there are “major uncertainties about potential significant adverse health and environmental impacts” associated with high-volume fracking.

“The Final SGEIS is the result of an extensive examination of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and its potential adverse impacts on critical resources such as drinking water, community character and wildlife habitat,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement. “We considered materials from numerous sources, including scientific studies, academic research and public comments, and evaluated the effectiveness of potential mitigation measures to protect New York’s valuable natural resources and the health of residents. I will rely on the FSGEIS when I issue a Findings Statement in accordance with state law.”

The next step comes at least 10 days from now, when the DEC is due to release a its legally binding “findings statement” that would officially put the ban on high-volume fracking in place.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had announced in December the state would move to ban high-volume hydrofracking in the state after the Department of Health’s review of the impacts of the process found it was potentially dangerous for human health.

While the document itself outlining the environmental impacts of hydrofracking was still expected to be released, despite the formal declaration from the Cuomo administration at the end of last year.

Hydrofracking had been under a defacto ban in New York since 2008, when then-Gov. David Paterson moved to begin the environmental review process.

The document released today will likely be closely reviewed by environmental groups as well as oil and gas interests that been pushing for high-volume fracking in New York, including the state’s Southern Tier.

Indeed, already the state’s Business Council is weighing in on the results for the review.

“After seven years, it is profoundly disappointing that fear and misinformation have won the day. The Business Council and its members devoted significant time and effort to the development of rigorous regulations that would allow high volume hydraulic fracturing to be done safely in New York. Unfortunately, the Department of Environmental Conservation ignored their statutory responsibility to promote the development of New York’s plentiful oil and gas resources,” said Business Council President and CEO Heather Briccetti. “We are confident that today’s decision will ultimately be reversed. But for many New Yorkers looking for new jobs and new economic opportunity, that day will come too late.”

The full report is posted here.

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