Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: The Journal News

DEC: No timeframe on hydrofracking decision


Posted: September 10, 2013
Originally Published: September 6, 2013

ALBANY — A high-ranking official in the state Department of Environmental Conservation declined to estimate when a decision on hydraulic fracturing may come down, telling lawmakers Friday that there “isn’t a timeframe at this point.”

Anne Reynolds, DEC deputy commissioner for administration, told the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee that the agency continues to review comments it received on a 2011 draft review of fracking, a 1,500-page document known as the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or SGEIS.

Reynolds testified for the DEC at a hearing held by the legislative committee Friday. The DEC started its review of fracking more than five years ago.

“There isn’t a timeframe at this point,” she said. “As you know, you’ve heard before that we’ve received over 100,000 comments from the public. The department is still reviewing those comments, developing responses and developing any changes to the SGEIS in response.”

A decision on whether to allow large-scale fracking in New York awaits the DEC finalizing the SGEIS. The hotly debated technique, hailed as an economy booster by proponents and knocked as a potential environmental threat by critics, helps extract gas from shale formations such as the Marcellus Shale, which covers New York’s Southern Tier.

But the SGEIS won’t be finalized until the Department of Health completes its own review of the document, a process begun a year ago. Though Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said in January and February that his work would be completed within weeks, it remains unfinished.

When asked whether she had information on when the Health Department may finish, Reynolds said: “I don’t.”

“Both DEC and the Department of Health are committed to not moving ahead with fracking until that’s finished and until we’re satisfied that it can be conducted in New York in a way that’s protective of the environment and public health,” she said.

Fracking proponents and opponents have been angered by what they say is a lack of transparency on the health review. Contracts with outside consultants hired to assist with the review expired three months ago, the Albany Bureau reported last week.

“If they can’t put a timetable on it, that means that the decision that they’re making is based purely on politics and not the science and facts that surround the use of hydraulic fracturing,” said Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, a business group that supports fracking.

Reynolds spoke at a hearing on the DEC budget as well as a proposed $5 billion environmental bond act, which is being pushed by Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, D-Suffolk County, who hosted the hearing.

Several of those who testified cited the need for the state to borrow to meet its growing environmental infrastructure needs, such as aging water and sewer systems statewide. A 2008 study from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office estimated $75 billion in such infrastructure needs statewide over the next 20 years.

But a bond act could cause problems with the state’s debt cap, which is tied to 4 percent of personal income across New York. According to the most recent quarterly report from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget office, the state is projected to come within $571 million of the debt ceiling in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said a bond act is needed to help address the funding gap for much-needed improvements.

“From toxic tides in Long Island Sound to crumbling sewage infrastructure to toxic hot spots in the Great Lakes, communities across the state are suffering as New York fails to make adequate investments in protecting the health of our land, air, water and people,” she said.

A bond act would need the state Legislature’s approval and Cuomo’s signature before it would go to voters for a referendum as early as 2014. Cuomo last week said he hasn’t yet reviewed Sweeney’s proposal.