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New York Moves To Ban Fracking

Office of Gov. Cuomo
DEC Commissioner Joe Martens and Acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker announce their reports on hydraulic fracturing, advising a ban, at a cabinet meeting in Albany yesterday.

The Cuomo administration will move to ban hydrofracking citing unresolved health issues and dubious economic benefits of the widely used gas-drilling technique.

The news came at a meeting of the governor’s cabinet where Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens summarized the findings of their environmental and health reviews.

The Governor distanced himself from the decision and referred questions to Zucker and Martens.

Cuomo defended the more than five-year-long study of fracking and said, "This has been the most exhaustive…we didn’t rush anything. We took our time. They talked to everyone. We had advisory boards. They travelled. They read everything. At one point if you disagree, you disagree. And I understand there’s plenty to disagree."

Cuomo’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker said as he examined numerous completed and still on-going studies on fracking’s effects on drinking water, air quality, and other health issues, several “red flags” were raised. He said he has “identified significant health risks in the current data” that have not been answered by conclusive long-term studies with “large population pools.” “I cannot support high volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” Zucker concluded.

"Would I let my child play in the school field nearby (a drilling well), or let my family drink the water from the tap? After looking at the plethora of reports, my answer is no." - Dr. Howard Zucker, acting New York health commissioner

He said his decision on whether to endorse fracking really came down to one key question. “Would I let my child play in the school field nearby (a drilling well), or let my family drink the water from the tap?” Zucker asked. “After looking at the plethora of reports, my answer is no.”

Governor Cuomo, who has delayed a decision on fracking for nearly his entire first term in office, had originally supported the gas drilling as a means of creating jobs in economically troubled upstate areas. Now, Cuomo said, the challenge is to figure out what kinds of economic development can be advanced as an alternative.

“I get very few people who say to me ‘I love the idea of fracking’,” Cuomo said. “Basically they say I have no alternative because there is no other economy.”

On the same day as the fracking ban was made public, a state board appointed by Cuomo and legislative leaders announced the siting of three new gambling casinos in economically depressed upstate areas. None of the franchises, however, were awarded to locations in the Southern Tier, which is above much of the Marcellus shale deposits.

"I get very few people who say to me, 'I love the idea of fracking.' Basically they say, 'I have no alternative because there is no other economy.'" - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Environmental groups, who had been planning a huge protest at Governor Cuomo’s upcoming State of the State speech, were overjoyed. Julia Walsh is with New Yorkers Against Fracking. “We are so thankful to the Governor for sticking to his word and listening to the science,” Walsh said. “This is indeed a great day for millions of New Yorkers.”

Supporters of fracking, including Greg Birla with the pro-business group Unshackle Upstate, are dismayed. “From an upstate business perspective, we’re extremely disappointed,” said Birla who called it a “lost opportunity.”

Cuomo’s Environmental Commissioner, Joe Martens, said he will finalize an environmental impact statement in the coming weeks that’s been delayed for years, which concludes hydrofracking will not be permitted in New York State. Cuomo and his commissioners did not impose a time limit for the fracking ban which leaves the door open to revisit their decision sometime in the future.

This story was originally published by North Country Public Radio and reprinted with permission.

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