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Source: The Syracuse Post-Standard

Environmental groups want fired DEC chief reinstated


Posted: October 24, 2010
Originally Published: October 22, 2010

Syracuse, NY -- Local environmental advocates expressed shock at the firing of the state’s top environmental watchdog.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said he was fired Thursday by Gov. David Paterson’s top aide after his memo criticizing the governor’s plan to cut staff was leaked.

Grannis said Larry Schwartz called him Wednesday and demanded his resignation over the leak, which Grannis says wasn’t his doing. Grannis refused to resign and said Schwartz called him Thursday evening and fired him.

“He said, ’That’s it, you’re done, you’re out effective immediately,’” Grannis said, speaking by phone from a meeting of the New York Water Environment Association, a sewage treatment industry group that had just given him an award.

The Paterson administration confirmed the firing late Thursday.

“This reeks of all kinds of shenanigans,” said Martha Holly Loew, an official with the local Sierra Club.

Loew said it didn’t make sense for Paterson, who will leave office in January, to fire Grannis.

She said Grannis was “honest, reliable and here for the environment for his whole life.”

The leaked memo said the 209 staff cuts Paterson demanded on top of 260 lost to early retirement incentives would seriously impede the agency’s effectiveness.

“Many of our programs are hanging by a thread,” stated the memo, which was reported Tuesday by the Albany Times Union.

The memo warned that fewer polluted sites would be cleaned, stocking of game fish could be halted and fewer regulators would be available to oversee the expected natural gas drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale that extends into southern New York.

“His memo was perfectly reasonable,” Loew said.

She said she wondered what else Grannis could say when his department was facing so many cuts.

“The agency has lost about 20 percent of its scientists, engineers and enforcement officials over the last few years,” said Rob Moore, director of Environmental Advocates. “I think Governor Paterson has been dismantling the agency for two years, and he’s finally cut off its head.”

Grannis was hired 40 years ago as a lawyer for the agency when it was created after the first Earth Day. He represented Manhattan’s Upper East Side for more than 30 years in the Assembly, where he championed environmental issues, fighting for passage of the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the bottle deposit law and measures related to acid rain, clean air and water, recycling and brownfield cleanup.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer appointed Grannis DEC commissioner in 2007.

Dereth Glance, executive program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said Grannis had been “a great champion for the Great Lakes,” and someone whom she has been able to take at his word.

Environmental groups have called for Paterson to reinstate Grannis. If he doesn’t, Glance said, whoever comes next will inherit “an agency in crisis.”

To fix that will take, “strong, solid competent and brave leadership,” she said.

The Associated Press contribute to this report.