Over a dozen groups join NRDC in calling on NYS to open fracking health review to public input

Earlier today, NRDC, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on behalf of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and a dozen other national and statewide groups sent a letter to the Cuomo Administration calling on it to open the on-going review of the potential health risks of proposed new fracking to public review and comment.

A brief bit of history may help put things in perspective.

In September – following months of advocacy by NRDC and other members of the environmental and medical communities – the Cuomo Administration agreed to conduct an evaluation of the health risks posed by fracking. Although agreeing to do less than the formal, independent, comprehensive health impact assessment that we requested, we remained hopeful the state would nonetheless commit to evaluating the health impacts in a robust, unbiased and transparent manner.

Ultimately, we hoped this process would produce a first-of-its-kind statewide evaluation of fracking’s potential risks to the people of New York, one that would in turn meaningfully inform the state’s ongoing consideration as to whether to move forward with new fracking.

Last month, in a further promising sign, the Department of Health named a panel of three highly qualified public health experts to assist in its consideration of fracking’s health risks.

Unfortunately, more recently, things have taken a decidedly less encouraging turn. Since its announcement, the health review has been shrouded in secrecy, with the public denied access to any of the materials being reviewed by the agencies and its experts, or even to the details of the process itself. Nor has the public or other key stakeholders, including state and local health professionals, been given any opportunity to submit their own comments and concerns associated with the health risks associated with potential fracking in New York State for the experts’ review.

In one particularly troubling sign, it was revealed that the experts were only contracted to perform a maximum of 25 hours of review – a startlingly paltry allotment given that some health impact experts have estimated that it would take at least a year to properly and fully evaluate the potential risks in New York.

Further, as I have previously blogged, despite having just initiated the health review process, the Department of Environmental Conservation rushed out revised proposed rules for fracking in the state – before either the outside review of health impacts or the ongoing environmental review – has been completed. Whether intended or not, this signaled that – contrary to the Governor’s repeated assurances that no decisions on fracking would be made before the science was fully developed – the state had already decided that, and how, fracking would proceed.

In an effort to get things on track before a unique opportunity is squandered and irretrievable mistakes made, our fourteen groups wrote today to the commissioners of health and the environment to call on them to take three immediate steps to ensure that the health review is legitimate and meaningful:

  1. Publicly release the scope, substance, and any supporting data or information used to complete the “health impact analysis” conducted by DEC and reviewed by DOH, as well as the scope and substance of the outside experts’ evaluations of that review.
  2. Provide a minimum sixty-day public comment period on the scope and substance of the health review.
  3. Hold one or more public hearings throughout the potentially affected parts of the state to receive testimony from interested parties.

We further called on the Administration to reiterate its commitment not to make any final decisions related to fracking until this public health review process has been completed and due consideration has been given to the information elicited during that process

Now you can add your voice. Tell Governor Cuomo to give New Yorkers a chance to consider the health review and to participate in the decision-making over whether – after full consideration of the risks – fracking moves forward in the state.

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