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Friday, Jul 1, 2011, 8:14 am

Environmentalists to Gov. Cuomo: Think Long and Hard About Lifting Fracking Ban

By Taylor Long
Yesterday, The New York Times reported Gov. Andrew Cuomo is planning to lift New York state's moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

The New York State Assembly passed the moratorium 93 to 43 on Nov. 30, 2010, with the goal of giving the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) more time to gauge environmental concerns raised by environmentalists. Yesterday evening, the DEC released these new recommendations.

Hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' injects a largely undisclosed mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to break up shale rock and free hard-to-reach oil reserves. Environmental activists, many of whom have been personally affected by fracking, allege these toxic chemicals easily leak into nearby wells and watersheds.

Previously, during the 2010 campaign, Cuomo said he would be in support of hydraulic fracturing "if it were safe, if the watersheds were protected, and if it could create jobs." Now, it's looking more and more like drilling companies will get the OK from Cuomo to tap into Marcellus Shale oil reserves, excluding upstate watersheds for New York City and Syracuse. An activist from Ithaca, N.Y., asked In These Times to publish the following letter, which she writes on behalf of the Coalition to Protect New York, detailing its concerns with fracking's environmental and social impacts.

Dear Governor Cuomo,

We just got word that you're about to lift the fracking moratorium in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds. I'm almost apoplectic from shock, anger, grief, and terror.

A former farmer and trained environmentalist, researcher, and independent journalist, I have spent much of the last three years learning and writing about fracking. I am a cofounder of the Coalition to Protect New York, among other actively engaged organizations working to ban fracking in our state and elsewhere.

We do not trust the Department of Environmental Conservation to get things right on fracking. Even if it were a reliable and trustworthy agency, the DEC’s budget has been cut so drastically and its workforce decimated to the point that it’s virtually hamstrung.

We do not trust — nor should any sensible, informed citizen or legislator trust — corporate-bought politicians and corporate "scientists."

For the moment we must trust that you are not among that group and that you truly want to do what is right for New York State.

In these tough economic, energy, and environmental times it will take a visionary, forward-thinking leader to bring the state into the future with an innovative energy/jobs/climate-change-effects-lessening plan.

You could be that leader if you have the desire and political will to do so.

We heard that you are lifting the moratorium for the state outside the New York City watershed (because Wall Street traders, corporate tycoons and big bankers live downstate) and Syracuse watershed (tossing a bone to the rest of the state, according to cynics), while throwing the rest of us to the wolves.

This means you think of the rest of the state’s residents and environment as expendable.

I think that you are committing political suicide.

Many millions of New Yorkers now know what is at stake with fracking, and more are coming to that understanding daily as they learn of its ills in other places.

That speaks to the dedication of my fellow antifracking activists, who are fighting an industry that can without blinking an eye drop $150 million or more yearly to hoodwink the public and lobby legislators with false propaganda. Their ads claim that “natural” gas is “clean, safe, domestic, and patriotic.” And that it’s an economic panacea for struggling workers whose jobs have been eliminated or sent abroad.

Which, as you surely know, are all false claims.

Governor, you should quickly reconsider lifting the moratorium. The only sensible, responsible, long-term response to the devastating practice of fracking (a response that would also greatly offset our economic woes) is to:

1) immediately institute a statewide fracking ban (New Jersey’s legislature just passed one; it’s waiting for Governor Christie’s signature, which is probably not forthcoming; but you could be the first);

2) invest in wide-scale updating and reinforcing of infrastructures and in conservation/energy-efficiency rehabilitating existing public and private buildings and homes;

3) commit to the building and maintenance of long-term energy-efficient public transportation and codify mandatory greater fuel efficiency in all private and public large, small, agricultural, and industrial vehicles;

4) invest in research, development and implementation of renewable, sustainable neighborhood- and local-based energy systems, and write and enforce laws mandating the phase-out of all fossil-fuel based systems;

5) protect and keep public all drinking water supplies;

6) promote and foster healthful, organic agriculture and food distribution models; and

7) invest in public education programs about conservation, the reduction of energy consumption, and about renewable energy strategies.

Following such a plan would save money through conservation. It would reduce our need for and dependence on fossil fuels (which dependence, as you know, is unsustainable, even in the short term). It would also create plenty of safer, stabler, longer-term jobs, as the “green” sector expands with innovative new projects.

Perhaps most important, it would help stave off further hastening of catastrophic climate change and leave a legacy of forward-thinking and sustainability — rather than one of industrialization and ruination of lives, communities, and food and water supplies.

Fracking is the single most important issue facing New Yorkers. It will add water-pollution, air-pollution, and food toxicity illnesses, generate injuries to workers and others, and thereby increase our health care costs.

It will cause property damage and drain our communities of tax revenues that will need to be used to repair roads and bridges damaged by the thousand of trucks it takes to provision a frack well and remove the millions of gallons of contaminated waste generated by each well.

It contributes to greenhouse gases and global climate change and the increasingly commonplace whacky weather patterns we are seeing in New York and elsewhere. It will kill our tourism, outdoor adventuring, and agriculture and vineyards enterprises around the state—which would constitute economic suicide.

Those industries combined bring in about $2.2 billion annually and provide 515,000 jobs (and will likely grow as neighboring Pennsylvania’s hunting, fishing, agriculture, and tourism sicken and die of fracking-related causes).

We must not allow the progress we have made these last few decades on the clean air/clean water/safe food to be wiped out via one destructive industry, nor allow our bucolic state to be turned into an industrial wasteland.

Because, mark my words, that is what fracking will do to New York should your permits go through.

New York is “Fracking Ground Zero.” People in fracked states are looking to us for leadership, begging New Yorkers to stop the madness before it takes hold here. They do not want us to be poisoned, and they also want us to then help them stop the industrialization and maybe help reverse some of the damages (although, alas, it is too late for many of these states, and huge swaths of land as well as people’s health and properties are beyond reclamation) of their communities.

Governor Cuomo, I urge you to be the leader New Yorkers need — and in whom they put their faith in when casting their votes.

Do not succumb to industry/Wall Street pressure. Do not put profits before our health. Do not gamble with our lives.

This is a make-or-break issue for me, my family, and the many organizations to which I belong and which I have founded or cofounded. We are making this the top priority in our lives and in our daily and many political actions. We feel we are fighting for our way of life — indeed, for our very lives. We want you to be equally committed to saving what is precious and irreplaceable.

Please invite us to consult with you if your information is leading you to lift the moratorium. We are informed. We are knowledgeable. We are farsighted.

We are taxpaying scientists, medical doctors and practitioners from many fields (oncology, pulmonology, pediatrics, obstetrics/gynecology, physiatry, endocrinology, and psychiatry), farmers, water quality specialists, hazardous materials experts, teachers, sociologists, journalists, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, writers, artists, homeowners, renters, teens, college students, parents, grandparents, voters.
We will help you understand that fracking risks are far too great, too widespread, too permanent, too irremediable, too suicidal on so many fronts.

We are also motivated. There’s nothing that pulls people off their couches like a threat to their kids' health and their property values. We will not allow ourselves to be used as lab rats, cannon fodder, or "collateral damage."

So you can be sure that we will not stop fighting for a ban. We hope you will do the right thing and push for a total ban on fracking in New York State.

And Governor, please make the decision quickly. We have all lost countless hours to this fight — and countless hours of sleep to our deep and very real fears of what fracking will do to our future, and our children’s — and we would like to go back to being productive rather than reactive. Our reinvigoration and productivity will also help the troubled economy, about which you might be losing a lot of sleep as well.

We are also willing to sit on an advisory board to help you put the positive sustainability/conservation work mentioned above in place. Just ask us.

My family, friends, colleagues, fellow activists and I look forward to your response.

Cordially,

Maura Stephens
Tioga County, NY

Maura Stephens is an independent journalist and cofounding member of the Coalition to Protect New York and other groups. She writes frequently about fracking and other environmental and energy issues. To contact New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact/GovernorContactForm.php; (518) 474-8390

Taylor Long is a summer 2011 in These Times Web intern.

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