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Source: Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

DEC chief fired after memo on jobs

Grannis links ouster to concerns over gas-drilling oversight


Posted: October 22, 2010
Originally Published: October 21, 2010

ALBANY -- Pete Grannis, state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, was fired effective immediately Thursday in the wake of an agency memo that was critical of layoffs planned at the agency.

Jessica Bassett, a spokeswoman for Gov. David Paterson, confirmed the firing of Grannis, a former state assemblyman from Manhattan who has led the agency since 2007. She declined further comment.

In a telephone interview Thursday night with the Gannett Albany Bureau, Grannis said he was contacted Wednesday by Paterson's top deputy, Lawrence Schwartz, and was asked for his resignation because the memo became public.

But Grannis said he decided Thursday that he would not resign and said he didn't release the memo to the media, which reported on its details this week. He was then fired.

"I'm disappointed, and I think it's because of the memo that we provided to the director of the state budget office, Bob Megna, which outlined the consequences and downside of further budget cuts at DEC," Grannis said.

Grannis called his termination "unwarranted."

In the unsigned, undated memo, a copy of which was obtained Thursday by the Press & Sun-Bulletin, the DEC warned of service and program cuts because of the layoffs, including a slowdown in natural gas development in New York.

The DEC has been instructed by Paterson's office to cut 209 workers -- about 6.6 percent of its current staff -- by year's end, which "may result in potential serious risks to human health and safety and environmental quality," the agency wrote in the memo.

The DEC had 3,775 full-time employees in April 2008. If the staff cuts go through, it will have lost 849 full-time employees since then.

"In contrast to the past, we no longer have a general capacity for incremental reductions," the memo reads. "All the meat has been stripped from the bones and some of the bones have disappeared."

Grannis' abrupt termination was criticized by environmental groups. The now-former commissioner was ironically being honored Thursday night for his environmental work by the New York Water Environment Association at an event in Saratoga County.

"We think it's deplorable," said Dereth Glance, executive program director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "He was telling the truth. The memo details the realities of what state the Department of Environmental Conservation is currently in, and what additional cuts would do to the agency."

Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said the move was "one of the final injustices that the Paterson administration could do in the environmental arena."

"They dismantled the (DEC), they've raided many of the funds that are central for clean energy work, recycling programs, parks programs, and now after all of that activity, they have blocked off the head of the DEC," Moore said. "It's shocking that they would do something like this."

The DEC is reviewing its permitting guidelines on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a gas-rich formation underneath much of the Southern Tier and Pennsylvania. Drilling remains on hold in New York until the document -- the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement-- is finalized.

Staff cuts could slow natural gas development in New York, the agency contended.

From the memo: "Cuts to our Minerals Division will mean fewer staff available to review applications and oversee activities related to natural gas drilling in Marcellus Shale."

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell, called Grannis a "remarkable environmentalist." Lupardo sits on the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee.

"This is a terrible loss to the DEC and the state of New York," she said. "I want to try to understand more about why it happened."