NY AG makes good on his threat to sue to protect over 15 million people's drinking water from fracking

Today NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the federal government for its failure to evaluate the environmental and health risks of new fracking in the critical Delaware River Basin.  We applaud the Attorney General’s bold action and urge the Delaware River Basin Commission to comply with federal law by fully assessing the threats of new natural gas development before permitting this risky new activity in the watershed that provides clean drinking water to more than 15 million people in four states.

Last month, the Attorney General demanded that the federal agencies represented on the DRBC comply with the nation’s bedrock environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act, before moving forward with allowing new gas production in the basin.  Gas development using fracking has been associated with drinking water contamination, as well as air pollution, significant waste issues, agricultural impacts, community disruption and other environmental and health impacts across the country.

The earliest of the nation’s major environmental statutes, NEPA requires that all federal agencies evaluate the potential environmental risks of major actions they propose before acting.  In our comments on the draft regulations issued by the DRBC late last year, NRDC expressed our view that the DRBC was compelled to comply with NEPA by conducting a full evaluation of the public health and environmental risks of allowing gas development for the first time in the ecologically critical Delaware River Basin.

Given the number of people who depend on the health of the Delaware River watershed for their drinking water supplies – in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York (including the more than 9 million who depend on the New York City watershed) – it is the height of irresponsibility to disregard the mandates of NEPA.  It should not take a lawsuit by the NY Attorney General to convince the DRBC to consider the risks before issuing rules that would permit potentially tens of thousands of new gas wells to be developed in the watershed.

But now that he has sued, we sincerely hope that AG Scheiderman’s powerful action will convince the DRBC and its federal constituents of the need to comply with federal law before thinking about issuing final regulations that could put the drinking water and other precious resources of so many people in jeopardy.