Lifton Astonished At Two-Tiered Approach On Environmental Protection By DEC

July 1, 2011

Assem. Barbara S. Lifton (D/WF – 125th) today expressed astonishment at the apparent decision by the Governor and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to only protect the drinking water in the New York City and Syracuse Watersheds and to lift the moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) in the rest of the state and issue permits for drilling once the current SGEIS process is finalized.

“A dual standard for drinking water in New York State is completely unacceptable. If it has been determined that there is too much risk to drill in the New York City Watershed, there is also too much risk to drill in the watersheds of the Southern Tier. It is just plain wrong to have a dual standard for environmental protection across New York; all New Yorkers deserve the same strong protections for their water,” said Lifton.

Lifton said: “The legislature and Governor, together, just a week ago, erased a second-class of citizenship for the LGBT community in New York by enacting Marriage Equality. I was proud to be a strong supporter of that effort, and I am grateful to the Governor for his leadership in bringing the Senate aboard. It would be a sad statement, however, if, at the same moment, we create a new group of second-class citizens – those whose pure, life-sustaining water is expendable. I can hardly believe New York’s DEC would consider taking such a discriminatory, backward and unprecedented step.”

While Lifton said she was pleased to see the essence of her bill (A3245/S3472) which would preserve the right of cities and towns to invoke their land-use and zoning ordinances included in the new SGEIS, she said it is important that local control should be enacted clearly into law.

“Our state courts have ruled, and it is now codified into our law, that such control is there in relation to mining, another extraction industry. It stands to reason that the extraction industry of gas drilling would be treated in a comparable fashion. I am glad this critical issue has made it to the DEC radar screen, but we need very clear and strong language in this area. We need to make it clear to communities that they have the authority to dictate where gas drilling will or will not be allowed, and not only that DEC permitting will abide by such zoning considerations. I hope we will see a DEC program bill and support in the Senate, which we did not see this session as my bill passed the Assembly, that will give this important principal the full force of law,” urged Lifton.

Lifton said she was very concerned about the seeming rush to issue material from DEC, even though, by their own admission, studies are still being done that should be part of the SGEIS. But, based on the brief materials just released, Lifton noted that there seems to be little change in the areas that she, environmental groups, and even the EPA, have long indicated are sorely lacking – a real plan for the treatment and disposal of wastewater, a study of cumulative impacts, a plan for the full involvement of the Department of Health where there is every reason to believe from the experience around the country that both air and water degradation from HVHF would affect the health of New Yorkers.

“Since those concerns were raised, major new issues have arisen that beg further study, such as the Howarth study that concluded that the full extraction process makes natural gas, which is largely methane gas, worse than coal, as methane is 70-100 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas,” warned Lifton. “Our nation’s climate scientists are telling us that we are already seeing the devastating effects of climate change in the storms, flooding, droughts, rising temperatures and melting of the polar caps. I will be looking closely at the study the DEC said they were doing on how the drilling for methane gas would affect our state’s Climate Action Plan for reducing greenhouse gases.”

Lifton pointed out also that Cornell researcher and professor, Dr. Susan Christopherson, has done a study that calls into serious question the claim by the industry that HVFH will produce a net increase in jobs or tremendous revenues for the state or local governments, given its history elsewhere of crowding out the extant local economy and causing both population and income growth-rate declines.

“To date, the oft-repeated claim that HVHF will be good for job creation or our state’s economy has not been borne out by valid studies. Hydro-fracking has killed jobs in other states and in New York counties where we already have considerable conventional drilling. I will be eager to see the study the DEC has commissioned in this critical area, which I hope includes a careful study of what is already happening in our state’s mortgage market, with many verified reports of an inability to buy and sell residential properties on which there is a gas lease. This is a recent and very troubling development,” Lifton said.

Lifton also emphasized that the revelations in the most recent New York Times series about possible over-booking of reserves and related issues, calling into question the overall integrity of the gas drilling industry, needs a full review by state authorities.

“There is still much to discuss and improve, and 60 days is an inadequate time period in which to review this document that deals with what I believe is ‘the environmental issue of the century,’ for New York State,” Lifton concluded, renewing the call by scores of legislators for a 180-day public comment period on the SGEIS once it is issued. Lifton also reiterated the position of the Assembly Majority – that we should also wait for the federal EPA to complete its study of hydro-fracking before even considering allowing this practice in New York that has caused so much harm to both water and people’s health in other states.