Cuomo Under Fire As Hydrofracking Remains Stalled
At a time when this country’s economy is still fragile and needs jobs badly, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been under attack virtually from the start of his administration for not taking advantage of the opportunity presented in Upstate New York (where jobs are particularly hard to find) to work out details to let the natural gas industry get a foothold to develop the abundant supplies of gas fields that exist there.
Admittedly, Cuomo faces some serious environmental problems that would accompany large-scale gas mining operations, and wisely took steps to control development by continuing delays to prevent wholesale hydrofracking operations while regulations are put in place.
The problem is, gas industry officials complain, that devising the regulations and putting them in place have taken an inordinate amount of time. They point to neighboring states, such as Pennsylvania, and others not so close, as Ohio, which have worked out the details to allow industry in and to develop employment opportunities to help individuals get back on their feet while helping to improve the economies of those states also.
Meanwhile, upstate residents have also become restive with the slow pace of the Cuomo administration’s efforts, as evidenced by demonstrations seeking some movement to get a workable plan in place. There also has been continuing and frequent media reporting to track the issues involved because the economic questions at stake are so compelling.
What follows are some of the latest reports on comments from both sides of the question.
GENNARO BACKS CUOMO’S NATURAL GAS POLICY: Cuomo’s “go slow” policy on giving the green light to extensive hydrofracking of natural gas deposits in New York state won support from Councilmember James Gennaro (D–Fresh Meadows) last week. The Fresh Meadows lawmaker was the first public official in this state to speak out about that controversial mining procedure and its affect on the state’s environment some years ago.
As chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection, Gennaro went on record in 2008 about the potential adverse environmental impact of hydrofracking, which is used in drilling for natural gas by using high volume hydraulic fracturing underground to locate deposits of natural gas sources and extract them. However, the mining procedure creates some hazards to sources of drinking water.
Gennaro stated recently that, as a geologist and committee chairman, he has spent much time and effort “to keep abreast of the voluminous amount” of information about hydrofracking, but adds it is nothing compared to what the governor and his environmental team is trying to do.
And that is, according to Gennaro: “To regulate hydrofracking, such that the gas companies bear the full cost of production of their product, and not have their product ‘subsidized’ by the degradation of the state’s water, air and land resources. Such resources, of course, belong to the current and future generations of New Yorkers, and do not exist merely to increase the gas companies’ bottom line.”
Gennaro concluded his statement by thanking Cuomo “for being open to the economic, employment and energy benefits that would accrue from safely extracting natural gas from gas-bearing shale formations in New York state, but I am grateful that he has prioritized the health of New Yorkers and the long-term protection of the state’s irreplaceable natural resources over a short-term energy and economic boost from hydrofracking”.
The New York Daily News, in an editorial in its November 28 issue, presented its view of hydrofracking and greater use of natural gas. Briefly, the editorial states that these two factors were responsible, when used to replace coal with natural gas in U.S. power plants: for reducing the nation’s planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions by 500 megatons a year and for cutting Americans’ energy costs by $100 billion annually. In turn, the cheaper energy led to growth in U.S. manufacturing, the creation of jobs, and an increase in U.S. domestic oil production, putting this nation on a path to overtake Saudi Arabia in the black gold business by 2020.
Summarizing these points, the editorial states: “So, fracking holds the promise of slowing global warming, saving money, boosting the economy and improving national security.”
But these great advances are not being seen in New York state under Governor Cuomo, who has “committed to imposing the strictest regulations in the countryincluding a ban on drilling anywhere near New York City reservoirs and other critical water supplies”.
Also under Cuomo, a “study of whether and how to permit fracking has dragged on for four years”, the News says, and “Cuomo has now let the review bog down in trivial objections, such as the possibility that out-of-state fracking crews would spread venereal disease.”
The News wonders whether Cuomo’s “heart is really in fracking”, and concludes: “But if you look at the big picture upsides—for the economy and the environment— properly regulated fracking is a no-brainer.”
On Monday, November 26, Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York ripped into Cuomo in a guest column in the New York Post (which has also been critical of Cuomo’s policies on fracking and natural gas development).
Gill started by pointing out that there would be another delay in any Cuomo response on the issue because the state Department of Environmental Conservation had announced it would miss tomorrow’s (November 29) deadline to release regulations setting down future natural gas regulation in the state.
Gill declared it was “another blow to a beleaguered industry—an industry, by the way, that has operated safely in New York for decades and isn’t asking for a dime of public money to expand here”.
Gill also charged that “after four years and four months of evaluating the environmental impacts, this latest delay is unnecessary”.
He pointed out that about three years ago his industry had supported 5,000 jobs in Upstate New York to explore vertical wells across the Southern Tier.
But today, he said, “Drilling activity is sharply falling.” Gill noted Cuomo had stated on an Albany radio program last week that: “People need jobs and people don’t want to be poisoned.”
Gill responded that this was “a false choice when you look at other gas-producing states and see a healthy environment and economy. In New York, the only thing poisoning job creation and business prosperity is more delay.”
CUOMO LAUNCHES SHORELINE REBUILDING: If Governor Andrew Cuomo has been feeling the heat about the slow pace of developing the economic benefits that could be realized by clearing the way for natural gas growth upstate, he certainly is entitled to high marks for his handling of Hurricane Sandy, which wreaked havoc around the state.
For nearly a month, Cuomo has been wrapped up in the preparation, the handson involvement with the actual storm, and now directing the rebuilding of the massive damage wrought and securing the funding to cover whatever part of it is possible.
Toward that end, Cuomo announced over the weekend the first rebuilding project of the eastern shoreline along the Atlantic seaboard—the reconstruction of the Robert Moses circle at Jones Beach on Long Island.
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D–N.Y.) and other construction industry sources estimate the cost could go as high as $50 million for the traffic circle as well as the sand dunes along the beach. But the main challenge is to get it done before May 1 (that’s 180 days or six months) in order for the state to qualify for federal reimbursement for the project.
In announcing the initial shoreline rebuilding project, Cuomo stated: “Step by step, our state’s infrastructure is being restored after the catastrophic destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.”
About two weeks after the storm battered the Atlantic coastline from Staten Island, in New York City to Montauk, at the eastern tip of Long Island, Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten, Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) announced they would seek $500 million to $1 billion in federal funding for seven Army Corps of Engineers projects to protect the entire coastline. The beaches to be rebuilt include Long Beach, Fire Island and Jones Beach on Long Island; Coney Island in Brooklyn, South Shore of Staten Island; Rockaway Beach in Queens; and Asharoken Beach in Suffolk County.
Schumer had likened the Northeast’s damage from Hurricane Sandy to the devastation visited upon New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Schumer stated:
“New York needs a post-Katrina style comprehensive protection plan, and it needs to be started right away.”
Cuomo has requested $30 billion in federal disaster funds for damages inflicted by Sandy, but this was a figure he gave before consulting with the state’s Congressional delegation or any other officials. But Cuomo reportedly will meet with the delegation December 3.
When he originally announced the $30 billion estimate, just after the storm ended, one of his aides said, “The request is not final so there was nothing to be blindsided by.”
STORM CLEANUP JOBS AVAILABLE: Governor Andrew Cuomo did one other useful thing connected with the hurricane’s aftermath: he ordered the hiring of 5,000 unemployed residents for temporary positions to help cleanup debris created by the storm and to distribute supplies to areas stricken by the storm, state officials said.
The jobs will pay about $15 per hour and could last about six months. First choice for the jobs will go to young people and the long-term unemployed who are residents in communities most affected by the storm, such as New York City, Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley.
It’s estimated that the project will cost totally about $28 million that will come to the city as a federal grant.
In announcing the plan, Cuomo stated: “The enormous amount of work to be done gives us a chance to provide young and unemployed New Yorkers with job opportunities cleaning up their communities.” He added that the jobs would provide valuable work experience and on-the-job training that can be useful in future careers.”
State Labor Commissioner Peter M. Rivera said Sunday that 800 people had already signed up for the jobs.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is also starting a separate program to hire New Yorkers to replace agency employees, many from out of state, who have been working here since the hurricane started. An expected 700 positions will be created by this program.
CITY COUNCIL REDISTRICTING ADVANCES: The New York City Districting Commission, which is redrawing the new district lines which will be used for next year’s elections of new councilmembers, has released a revised plan for the 51 council districts.
According to Chairman Benito Romano, the revised map will be submitted to the city council, which will have three weeks from the date of submission by the commission to take action on the plan or it will be deemed adopted.
The proposed revised plan, based on 10 public hearings and four public meetings, is available online on the commission’s Web site, www.nyc.gov/districting or call 212-442-6940.
The hardcopy version of the revised plan will also be available for public viewing on display at the Queens Public Library main branch in Flushing; or at The Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island borough halls and at the Districting Commission office in Lower Manhattan.
The 15-member commission’s revised plan consists of adjustments that were made to the preliminary draft plan that was released in September. The new plan will include 51 districts, the same as the districting plan that has been in effect since 2003. The plan meets the obligations with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and also the requirements set forth in the City Charter.