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Source: Rochester City Newspaper

The DEC firing: Paterson killed the messenger


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

The official line from Governor David Paterson's administration is that Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis was sacked for insubordination.

But the sad reality is, he was cut loose because he stood up for his agency and made the governor look bad. Grannis complied with a request from the governor to give state budget officials a memo outlining how staff cuts will affect their respective agencies. He laid out how the DEC is already struggling and how the cuts will make it worse.

The memo was subsequently leaked - Grannis has told the media he had nothing to do with that - and folks at the governor's office were apparently infuriated.

"Here I am being called on the carpet for doing what we were supposed to do - for being asked to tell the administration what the cuts they want meant," Grannis told the Albany Times Union, which first reported on the memo. "Apparently facts don't sit well with this administration."

The irony is, it's not much of a secret that the DEC is struggling. Over time, the agency's responsibilities have grown considerably, yet funding has been decimated, says Dereth Glance, program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. And it's taken a disproportionate share of cuts compared to some other agencies, even though much of its funding comes from the federal level.

The latest blow - layoffs and forced attrition that'll trim 209 positions by year's end - will take staffing levels back to early 1980s levels. This is happening at a time when the agency is preparing for a natural-gas drilling rush and is working on important plans dealing with state forest management and solid waste.

"It's deplorable that Commissioner Grannis was fired for telling the truth," Glance says.

New York has to be honest about the state of its government, and people shouldn't be fired for telling the truth, Glance says. That'll become increasingly important as state officials try to address a multi-billion-dollar budget gap. They'll need to consider the effect each cut will have and whether it's worth it.

And DEC's work cuts across a number of areas, from clean water programs to business to farming.

"In every quarter, we have had to reduce essential services provided by DEC," the leaked memo says. The memo goes on to say that the department is responding to and cleaning up fewer petroleum spills; inspections and enforcement have dwindled in all areas, including hazardous waste, wetlands, emissions, and hunting and fishing laws; there's less mining and drilling oversight; and efforts to plug leaking, abandoned wells have been axed. "Many functions formerly performed by a section of staff people are being performed by one individual, if at all," says the memo.

The cuts are even a hindrance to economic development; it's taking longer for the agency to review plans and for businesses to get the permits and permissions they need to operate.

This morning, I received several issue alerts from the likes of Sierra Club and Environmental Advocates of New York. This afternoon, a number of environmental groups will call for Paterson to reinstate Grannis. It'll be interesting to see how the governor and his aides react as this controversy rolls on. In any case, they've left a nice mess for the next governor to clean up.