The recent Massey coal mine catastrophe and the explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico highlight the issues of safety and environmental impact in the pursuit of energy sources from fossil fuels. Both incidents have taken innocent lives and caused untold environmental damage caused by companies who have repeatedly evaded government regulation and oversight. Clearly, one of the lessons to be learned from these disasters is not only is there a need for strict safety and environmental regulations, but also for rigorous enforcement. This is a lesson that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) needs to take to heart as it reviews the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) for hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale.
Both Massey Energy and British Petroleum (BP) have long histories of safety violations, political maneuvering, and dismal environmental records. Massey was frequently cited for safety violations, including some 50 citations at the Upper Big Branch mine in the month of the explosion alone. Many of those 50 citations were for failure to maintain proper escape ways, and the accumulation of combustible materials. Instead of working to comply with safety and environmental regulations, Massey has worked to sidestep them. For Massey, it appears fines, fees, and settlements are just the cost of doing business.
Over the past two decades, BP subsidiaries have been convicted three times of environmental crimes in Alaska and Texas, including two felonies. Between June of 2007 and February of 2010, BP had received 760 citations for behavior classified as “willful and flagrant violation” of the law. Despite this abysmal record, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf did not have a remote-control shut-off switch, which commonly used as a last resort protection against underwater spills, because the oil industry argued against it so vigorously, regulators decided that remote controlled safeguards needed more study. Again we see an oil industry that has had too much sway in determining federal regulations and a too cozy relationship with the actual regulators.
Massey and BP’s history of safety and environmental violations indicate a blatant disregard for regulations among these energy companies, and a lack of enforcement on the part of our regulatory agencies, allowing energy companies to adopt questionable practices in order to increase profits. The DEC must be fully cognizant that the gas companies that want to drill in the Marcellus Shale are driven by similar profit-maximizing considerations. If the fines for violating regulations are not sufficiently high, then gas companies seeking to operate in the Marcellus Shale may make decisions similar to Massey and BP by determining that it is more cost efficient to ignore regulations and incorporate any potential fines, fees or settlements into their operating costs.
Although the gas companies claim that the risk of accidents from hydrofracking is minimal, the DEC should take special consideration of the fact that the technology behind hydrofracking was developed by Halliburton, a company whose technology applications may be implicated in the Gulf oil spill for a failed concrete casing which might have contributed to the explosion. This must call into question the safety of the hydrofracking process itself. What has happened in the Gulf suggests that oil and gas companies cannot guarantee the safety of the drilling process. We should not rely too heavily on the testimony of gas companies as to the safety of their drilling methods.
The Marcellus Shale, which runs across much of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and other states has experienced a series of drilling-related accidents, spills and incidents of contamination. Most recently, in the beginning of June, there was a natural gas blowout in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania that shot gas and water polluted with drilling fluids as high as 75 feet into the air for 16 hours until it was finally shut down. In locations where hydrofracking has occurred the environmental impacts have been disastrous, with damages that include polluted air and water, industrial noise, and toxic chemicals leaching into groundwater and wells. I don’t think we can be overly cautious about the risks associated with drilling for natural gas.
It is clear that many energy companies have determined that when it comes to their bottom line, dealing with safety and environmental violations can be more cost efficient than complying with the regulations. While this may be how things are done in these companies, it puts at risk the health and safety of New Yorkers. The Environmental Protection Agency has not finished studying whether hydrofracking is safe and we don’t know what effects this new gas drilling will have. Without this information, the drilling should not be allowed to proceed. As the State moves forward to come to a decision about hydrofracking, it is imperative that the DEC stay true to its responsibility to protect New York State’s residents, natural resources, and environment from harm with strict regulations and strong enforcement that would truly act as a deterrent for gas companies who might otherwise act outside the law in pursuit of higher profits.
New York City’s government was altered in the late 1980’s after a legal challenge forced a restructuring. That Charter Revision Commission held dozens of hearings in every borough in advance of making its recommendations, and then repeated that extensive public hearing process before placing the question before the public for a vote. That process was the last time we experienced a deliberate and thoughtful review of the City’s Charter.
In the intervening years, we had commissions impaneled that were clearly initiated to propose specific items that were favored by the sitting mayor. The process was abbreviated and a limited number of public hearings were held at inconvenient times, like the day before or after a major holiday. This year we are once again on a fast track to put questions before the public in a hasty fashion. Despite the defensive statements from the Commission, only the bare minimum of poorly advertised public hearings will be held prior to placing serious issues on the ballot in November.
The most disturbing aspect is the issue of term limits, twice voted for by the public, overturned by the action of the City Council, with the promise of the Mayor that a new commission would be set up to once again review the topic. For many observers this was the quintessential quid pro quo, and yet, there are good government groups objecting to other items appearing on the ballot this November, but who accept the possibility of a term limits referendum. It seems an unnecessary acceptance of a purely political convenience. No question should appear on the ballot this year, because the disgraceful process should not be validated.
This year’s favored item is the issue of non-partisan elections. While cloaked in the appealing mantel of reform, this is just an attempt to make it easier for corporate candidates who have no history of political party involvement. The City’s exemplary public campaign finance program has already been undermined in recent elections and the direction of the Supreme Court bodes ill for limiting corporate influence in campaigns everywhere.
In cities with nonpartisan voting systems, where party affiliations are kept off the ballots, citizens enter the voting booth with little information about candidates. Party affiliation may not tell voters everything about a candidate but it gives uninformed voters cues about the candidates that they would not otherwise have. Removing the political party affiliation from a candidate doesn’t change that the candidate has a political ideology, it just obfuscates it. How can we expect voters to make an informed decision, when we remove information about the candidates?
Ironically nonpartisan elections have the opposite of their intended effect by limiting choice not expanding it. Non-partisan elections can end up creating a general election where the choice is between two candidates of the same party. On the other hand, partisan elections guarantee that each political party will be represented in the general election. A change of this magnitude would require far more discussion than the Commission’s timeline permits.
I moderated a panel discussion with: Peggy Coleman of Battery Dance Company, Tamara Greenfield of Fourth Arts Block (FAB), Will Maitland Weiss of the Arts and Business Council of New York, and Julie Menin, Chair of Community Board One. Close to fifty people came out to hear what our four panelists had to say about collaborations between arts organizations and local businesses. The panelists’ knowledge and experience in this area was well received and appreciated by the audience. The specific examples of partnerships that have developed between arts groups and businesses were informative and inspiring. Judging by audience members’ questions and comments, there is clearly a desire to increase partnerships and collaborations in the community. I plan to continue working with neighborhood arts organizations, local businesses, and the community, to find new and innovative ways to build partnerships and collaborations that are mutually beneficial to those involved.
Trees face many obstacles in the harsh confines of New York City. There is the air pollution, drivers with limited parallel parking abilities, bike locks being chained around their trunks, and perhaps their main nemesis—the waste products from dogs.
Most dog owners are responsible; unfortunately, some do not realize that a dog’s waste can be harmful to a growing tree as well as flowers. So remember to curb your dogs and keep our trees happy and healthy.
The issue of illegal hotels has been a growing problem in my district in recent years. Landlords who operate illegal hotels typically rent out rent-stabilized apartments for transient use, which compromises the availability of rent-stabilized housing for working New Yorkers. In addition, a rotating flow of strangers are given keys to the buildings which puts residents’ safety at risk. These operations also disadvantage legitimate hotels that are held to high standards of cleanliness, have requirements that must be met regarding fire and safety, and are obligated to pay hotel occupancy taxes to the city. Illegal hotels provide none of these safety assurances nor any revenue to the city. There is a bill, currently in the legislature, that is an essential step towards eradicating these illegal operations.
There are those who see illegal hotels as an affordable option for tourists who might not otherwise be able to afford to visit our city, but there are already legal options available for those who cannot afford to stay in large scale chain hotels, including legally operated hostels and dorm hotels.
Furthermore, it is important that we do not place the needs of tourists over the needs of New York’s residents. As we are all aware, the availability of affordable housing in New York City has been declining steadily for many years. This situation means that seniors and mid- to low-income families have to deal with wait lists that can be several years long, or make severe comprises to their quality of life so that they can pay the rent. One major benefit of the legislation I am co-sponsoring in the Assembly, which is aimed at helping those who need reasonably priced housing is that the large number of rent-regulated units that are now being used illegally as hotel rooms would be returned to the roster of available units.
In addition, the safety issue is very serious. I have heard from several older women in my district who report being intimidated and in some cases threatened by their landlords in an attempt to get them to move out of their homes so that the landlord can use them as hotel rooms and make more money. Moreover, I have heard from tenants facing disruptive transients with little or no recourse to remedy that situation short of calling the police. Illegal hotel operation is a shameful practice, and we must disincentive avaricious landlords from taking part in it in every way possible.
I believe that this bill is a necessary step in protecting the rent-regulated housing stock, the safety of tenants, and the integrity of legitimate hotel operators large and small who contribute jobs and revenue to the economy of New York City. My colleagues and I will do everything we can to ensure its passage this year.
It is time for the long raging debate over abortion rights in this country to come to an end. It has been thirty five years since the passage of Roe V. Wade, and despite what anti-choice activists want to believe, the country as a whole does not share their views regarding abortion. A review of polling from 1976 to 2010 shows that in 1976, 77% of Americans believed that abortion should be legal. After 35 years of anti-choice efforts to engage and educate the populace to win support for their argument, 78% of Americans believe abortion should be legal. Despite this, a few conservative areas in the country have recently begun passing anti-abortion legislation, bringing the long settled issue of women’s right to choose into the debate yet again.
When looking into the motivations of those pushing these laws, it is clear that public servants are ignoring the founding principles of this nation and yielding to religion based anti-choice organizations. These organizations, stung by a failure to increase public support for their position, have focused their efforts on convincing politicians to create laws that simply force the public to live in keeping the organizations’ religious ideals.
Unfortunately, in this political climate of extremism, their efforts appear to have met with some success in historically conservative states that have recently taken absurd stands that clearly don’t respect the decision of the Supreme Court. From Oklahoma’s new law preventing parents from suing doctors who don’t reveal fetal abnormalities observed during pregnancy to Utah’s law that makes it legal to charge a pregnant woman with homicide if she, absent the abortion alternative, takes extreme measures to end her pregnancy, we see legislation that flies in the face of established precedent as well as simple human decency.
These legislators would do better to ignore these interest groups and focus their efforts on things that actually help to decrease the rate of unwanted pregnancies. Abortion rates have been declining since the 1990’s as a direct result of better sex education in our schools. Study after study has shown that as young men and women are given the information about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies, they are listening, and they are learning. The result is fewer children born to parents who are ill-prepared to have them, without the need for medical intervention. Legislators who are truly concerned about reducing unwanted births would do well to spend their energies investing in education programs that empower our youth to make informed decisions about their bodies rather than pandering to special interest groups and creating laws that restrict the rights of all for the beliefs of a few.