Today's intense Joint Senate/Assembly Environmental Conservation Budget Hearing for 2013-2014 hosted DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens, in a room packed with activists. The focus of questions from many, if not most, was on hydrofracking. Some highlights below:
(Quotes may be somewhat paraphrased.)
Senator Tony Avella, from Queens, was direct: "You're doing a great job except for hydrofracking." Referring to the team of doctors reviewing the SGEIS, "My concern is that these three scientists are looking at nothing . . . the DEC is punting it back to Health [DOH], and Health is punting back to DEC." To Avella, it seems that the DEC has "already made a decision that no matter what the health impacts are, you're going to mitigate it, rather than ask whether or not you should go ahead with this." Martens responded, "I fundamentally disagree, there are no forgone conclusions."
Freshman Senator Terry Gipson, from Dutchess/Putnam, went after Martens with a pit bull tone of voice (while repeatedly thanking him for his patience), asking about costs to tourism, police and fire, roads and highways, and requested a dollar amount for what this will cost per well, saying the SGEIS glosses over the details, and "only 7 pages address these questions." Martens repeatedly begged off this and several other specific questions saying it is a GENERIC impact statement, therefore they can't be more specific because the activity hasn't happened here, so it's all hypothetical.
Assembly Member Barbara Lifton, from the Ithaca/Tompkins County area, focused on the Health Impact Assessment, chiding Martens for not having included health impacts from the beginning, adding, "Now, in the last 4 months, to tag on a health assessment that appears to be done by DEC," is an "unacceptable process." Martens responded that he "feels DEC has been very responsive to concerns for health by the public," has suggested the most aggressive mitigation measures to avoid release of chemicals, but that "clearly the public health community was not satisfied with that." Martens added he would "rather Dr Shah look at this and come back and tell us, 'Have you looked at all the impacts?' "
Senator Liz Kreuger, of Manhattan, asked about abandoned wells and unplugged, leaking wells, and asked whether it would be the obligation of the drillers to plug wells and do cleanup. Martens began, "We can compel," correcting himself to say, "We WOULD compel them," to do clean up as part of the permitting process. After conferring with an assistant, he clarified that, "plugging wells is a requirement under existing law." [Although as Kreuger had pointed out, thousands of abandoned "legacy" wells remain unplugged.]
Finally, Kreuger asked, "It's not in the budget so can we assume nothing will go forward in next 12 months?" Martens responded, "We are not going to permit anything we don't have funds to support." Senator Mark Grisante followed up by asking pointedly, "Is there any funding in this budget for HVHF?" Martens answered, "NO."
Assembly Member Steve Englebright, of Long Island, questioned Martens on aquifers and another legislator asked about setbacks near schools. Martens noted the [completely inadequate] requested increase to a 1000-foot setback [although laterals can project out more than a mile horizontally, making any setback meaningless].
Martens was hammered several times with questions about the speed with which the DEC has processed 200,000 new comments vs earlier processing of 60,000 comments, and whether there will be a formal public comment period on the HIA. Martens joked repeatedly that he "was sure the public would comment on it," until pressed by AM Lifton, when he answered he "doesn't know until he sees Dr Shah's recommendations," and "for all he knows" Dr. Shah could recommend HVHF not go forward (to loud applause).
In closing, AM Lifton noted how PA has a gag order on doctors which she assumed was put in place at the request of industry, rather than at the request of Pennsylvania's citizens, with that alone being just one instance of the industry's "record of incomptence and malfeasance." She then asked Martens, "Do you feel uncomfortable to allow that industry into this state?" and "Where are you on your overall thinking on doctors gag orders?" Martens said, "I feel the same as you do about doctors gag orders," but, "I'm afraid anything I say will be taken out of context" (which got a big laugh). He went on, "I don't feel it's fair to condemn a whole industry; there are charletans in the health industry too; the question is can you properly regulate them." Lifton finished by saying the problems were with the industry as a whole, not one company.
As the session ended, the audience took up a loud chant of "NOT ONE WELL" and exited the chambers chanting "Ban Fracking Now." Another opportunity to dialog with the DEC comes up on Wednesday in NYC (see, "Where to be for the Next 2 Weeks," below.
Unhappily, our state level case against the HRPT/Spectra/Con Ed has been dismissed, with the judge ruling that our concerns should be addressed at the federal level rather than by the State. This is disappointing, but we still feel that it was worth the effort and was the right thing to do. It was necessary for someone to go after them and we're glad we did. We could not have stood by all these past months, not having tried every means available to fight the pipeline.
The case has, at the least, continued to draw attention to the issue. The Con Ed/Spectra Community Board 2 hearing, held in December, was required as a result of this case. In fact, CB4 is now holding a similar meeting with Con Ed and Spectra (on Feb. 14th) as a result. We are happy that the community has benefitted by this and our other efforts to alert the public.
Our attorneys feel there are good grounds for an appeal, and as much as we'd like to pursue that, the financial burden on a small grassroots group such as ours is too great, therefore we are unable to proceed with further actions.
Because of the way our regulatory and judicial system are organized, FERC has been able to delay the start of the federal lawsuits while allowing construction to begin. The federal case, which will be brought by Sierra Club and Food and Water Watch, along with several NJ plaintiffs, will not kick into action until later this Spring––possibly after construction on the final leg of the Manhattan portion goes forward, and while Con Ed is allowed to start their extension into Chelsea. Meanwhile, construction on the New Jersey portion has continued all winter. We're hoping for a better outcome on the federal suit, and with several members of Sane Energy Project and our community already members of the Sierra Club, we will continue to be involved.
We want to thank our legal team, and all our co-plaintiffs and individual petitioners for the work and sacrifices they've made to take on this suit with us. Thanks to the leadership and members of United for Action, NYC Friends of Clearwater, NYH20, Village Independent Democrats, and Food and Water Watch. Our thanks to everyone who has contributed or will contribute to the legal fund (the bulk of those costs remain to be paid), and to all our members, for your participation and investment in this venture. To continue to support us, please consider becoming a member today.
The Fight Goes On! Where to be for the Next 2 Weeks:
Every Day: Call Governor Cuomo: 866-584-6799
Tuesday, Feb. 5 @ 11:45 am, Binghamton:
Don't Frack Our Health! Protest the secret, rushed heath impact "study." Rally and press conference with Dr. Sandra Steingraber and others. Unitarian Universalist Congregation Social Hall. Potluck lunch immediately following the rally, 183 Riverside Drive, Unitarian Universalist Congregation, More info here.
Tuesday, Feb. 5 @ 7pm, Cooper Union: Divesting from Fossil Fuels, NYC 350.org and Bill McKibben discuss divesting from fossil fuels. Sane Energy Project will be there, you can pick up a radon kit, too.
Wednesday, Feb. 6th @ 12 noon, Long Island City. Visit the DEC to send a direct message to Cuomo! Easy and fast subway via G train to the 21st St. Station, or the 7 to the Hunter's Point, or just over the Pulaski Bridge from Williamsburg and Greenpoint. 1 Hunter's Point Plaza, 47-40 21st St., Long Island City, NY 11101
Friday, Feb. 8th @ noon, Manhattan:
Rally outside Governor Cuomo's NYC office, make sure he knows downstate and upstate are in solidarity. No sacrifice zones! 633 Third Avenue (between 40th & 41st Streets).
Saturday, Feb. 9th @ 12:30pm, Minisink, Orange County:
Actor, Mark Ruffalo, and 9/11 first responder advocate, John Feal, will join the fight against the Minisink Compression station at a rally to be held directly across from the construction site at 107 Jacobs Road, Westtown, N.Y. 10998.
Saturday, Feb. 9th @ 7pm, Lower East Side: Keystone XL fundraiser. Sane Energy Project and OTP will also discuss the Spectra pipeline. Bluestockings Bookstore/cafe, 172 Allen Street, NYC (map).
Thursday, Feb. 14th @ 6pm, Chelsea:
CB4, the community board just north of the West Village, will host a hearing on the Con Edision extention to the Spectra Pipeline, location TBD (check our events page for updates). Con Ed and Spectra spokespeople will be present. And you know how much fun it was last time!
Sunday, Feb. 17th, in Washington, DC: Forward on Climate. 15,000-20,000 are expected. Buses depart from Upper Manhattan, Midtown, 3 Brooklyn locations, even the Bronx. Register here. Other buses, more info here.
Sunday, Feb. 17th @ 6:30pm, Binghamton: Attend the Broome County Comprehensive Plan meeting. Fight the pro-fracking agenda. Town of Chenango Town Hall (map.)
Where to Get a Radon Kit:
Our NYC Citizen Radon Test is so important because we MUST document existing conditions NOW, to safeguard our future. By documenting baseline levels in our current gas supply, we'll have proof, should radon levels rise as a result of the use of shale gas.
Pick up your kit TONIGHT at the OWS Environmental Solidarity meeting (5:30-7pm), the Atrium at the southwest corner of 42nd Street and Park Avenue (map). See Donna or JK. Please complete the online application. You can prepay online or bring exact change ($15). More locations here.
Watch the video explaining how easy it is. Still not up to speed on why radon from fracked gas is so risky? Check out this primer.