As I have blogged, recent polls suggest that opposition to fracking in New York is continuing to grow and deepen. The launch this past Tuesday of Hudson Valley United Against Fracking – at a press conference featuring former Congressman Maurice Hinchey, State Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk, Assemblymember Frank Skartados, and singer Natalie Merchant – represents further evidence of that trend.
The Hudson Valley region sits atop the Utica and Marcellus Shale plays. It is also a region steeped in a rich environmental history. From the inspiration of the Hudson River School painters to the successful Storm King Mountain legal fight to Pete Seeger's crusade to clean up the Hudson River - the Hudson Valley has played a vital leadership role in pressing for the importance of protecting the environment in New York.
The launch of Hudson Valley United Against Fracking this week is the latest chapter in that history. Maurice Hinchey has his own legacy of being a steward of the bucolic Hudson Valley – and of the state’s and nation’s environment more broadly. He was one of the most vocal of opponents to the Bush-Cheney Administration’s Energy Policy Act in 2005, which resulted in the infamous Halliburton Loophole that exempts fracking from federal regulation.
As Hinchey describes in his letter to Governor Cuomo accompanying the launch, a key impetus for his advancement of congressional funding for the EPA to study the drinking water impacts of fracking was to gain valuable information about water contamination in other areas of the country so that the same would not happen in New York or other areas in the US where fracking has not yet occurred. He was successful in getting this funding measure passed through Congress and signed by the President Barack Obama in three consecutive budgets. As Hinchey points out, if Governor Cuomo wants to base his ultimate decision on fracking on the science – something he has repeatedly reaffirmed – it is only logical to wait for the first comprehensive scientific federal study on the issue to be completed first.
In addition to Democratic Senator Tkaczyk, important support for a go-slow approach that awaits the science was provided by Republican State Senator John Bonacic, whose district falls within the Marcellus Shale region, including a portion of the Hudson Valley. Senator Bonacic was a key player in the passage of a one-year moratorium on fracking in 2010. Although not ultimately signed into law, the measure played a critical role in persuading then-Governor David Paterson to order the Department of Environmental Conservation to prepare a revised draft environmental review, which in turn extended the de facto moratorium on new fracking.
There are currently two important moratorium bills pending in the Senate (one sponsored by Senator Avella (S4236A) and the other by Senator Carlucci (S4046)), the former of which has already passed the Assembly (A5424A, sponsored by Assemblymember Sweeney). Though not identical, both measures would have the key effect of delaying any new fracking until the health impacts – about which there is a startling lack of information – have been further evaluated.
Also adding his voice to the chorus in support of waiting for the health studies is New York City Public Advocate (and mayoral candidate) Bill deBlasio, who yesterday called on the Senate to pass the Avella two-year moratorium bill.
The message couldn’t be clearer. The time is now for Governor Cuomo to once again reaffirm his pledge to ensure that all the risks – both environmental and health – are fully evaluated on the basis of the best possible science before any decisions on fracking are made. This means committing that the state will not move forward until the health studies are completed and their outcomes evaluated.