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NEW YORK – Advocates on all sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate in New York say that Governor Andrew Cuomo needs to be more specific about the Department of Environmental Conservation’s decision to restart regulatory rule-making for the controversial gas-drilling process.
Katherine Nadaeau, water and natural resources program director for Environmental Advocates of New York, says Cuomo has heard the public outcry over health concerns related to fracking. She says it’s good news the state is restarting the rule-making process, but the problem is that New Yorkers are still in the dark as to what happens next.
“What we don’t know is whether or not the state is going to hold off on issuing permits until this new public process has been completed; and that’s what we need to hear from the governor: What’s this process going to look like? Who’s going to be involved?”
Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, says his members are growing frustrated with delays and will hold the governor to his pledge that the decision will be based on science.
“Certainly four and a half years to review proposed regulations and a new Environmental Impact Statement should be enough time, in our view, so we would not support a back-to-the-drawing-board approach.”
Katherine Nadeau says new evidence linking fracking to negative impacts on people’s health and water quality has come to light since New York began taking public comment, so she disagrees with the industry’s claim that enough time has already been allotted for study.
“That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Everywhere that fracking happened nationwide, there have been stories about people becoming ill, about children’s asthma increases, about elderly people having trouble breathing.”
In late September, Cuomo also agreed to conduct a new study into the potential impacts of fracking on public health. No timeline has yet been determined for that study.
The DEC responds to these Demands;
The “DEC has been reviewing approximately 80,000 comments submitted concerning the Department’s review of high volume hydraulic fracturing.” That’s part of a statement by DEC commissioner Joe Martens – who says that “While a wide variety of issues are addressed by the comments, many focus on the potential public health impacts of high volume hydrofracking.”
The commissioner also says he’s had numerous conversations with many of the parties on all sides of this issue. And he recently met with several of the groups who have raised public health concerns. According to the Commissioner, it is clear they are not satisfied with the Department’s effort to address potential public health impacts. Martens says the groups would require that DEC conduct an outside health study that would determine the outcome of the final decision. And he rejects that demand. In a statement, the Commissioner says he believes it is highly likely that some of these groups will pursue litigation following the conclusion of the Departmental process if they do not agree with the outcome.
The commissioner also says he believes deferring to an outside group or entity would be an inappropriate delegation of a governmental responsibility. And he says, Government is the public’s independent reviewer: that is the essence of the current process. To suggest private interests or academic experts bring more independence to the process than government is exactly wrong.
The DEC’s position is that Many experts in this field have an opinion – pro or con- which could influence the process. Nor could one ever be sure that there weren’t potential conflicts of interest with outside consultants if they were to actually direct the outcome. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure objectivity and a review directed by DEC and the Department of Health is without bias.
DEC Announces it is working with NYS Health Commissioner Nirav Shah who has agreed to assess the Department’s health impact analysis. In addition, the DEC has asked Dr. Shah to identify the most qualified outside experts to advise the commissioner during his review. While the review will be informed by outside perspectives on the science of hydrofracking, the decision-making will remain a governmental responsibility.
An excerpt from Commissioner Marten’s Statement on Hydrofracking
Only after this evaluation is completed will a decision be made about whether to permit high volume hydraulic fracturing inNew York. Obviously if there was a public health concern that could not be addressed we would not proceed. The process to date has been designed to maintain public trust in the integrity of DEC’s review, and Dr. Shah’s assessment will assure New Yorkers that we have thoroughly examined all the issues before making a final decision. The review will also ensure the strongest possible legal position for the Department given the near certainty of litigation, whether the Department permits hydrofracking or not.
I believe this action addresses any legitimate request for additional due diligence and study as well as ensuring DEC’s ultimate decision on hydraulic fracturing is beyond reproach either as a matter of law or as policy. I believe the action also protects the independence of the DEC while availing ourselves of the best possible advice from the private and academic sectors. While I am sure these actions will not satisfy all parties, I do believe it will result in the most thorough review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the nation, regardless of the final decision.”