RSS

Tag Archives: gas drilling

Cuomo Fracks New York State with Irony and Disassociative Policy Disease


 

(BREAKING NEWS:  With so many promising initiatives outlined by the Governor in his State of the State Address,  it may seem like base cavilling to focus on a single issue like “fracking,” but my underlying assumption is that high-volume, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing is not the “problem.”   It is a symptom of the problem and it serves quite nicely to illustrate a corollary:  “If you partner with industry (especially the gas extraction industry) you will be forced to engage in tortured reasoning,  mad dashes left and right and a convoluted persecution of the laws that govern public Agencies.  (The  State Administrative Procedures Act ((SAPA), for instance,  figures heavily in an intent to sue notice prepared by David and Helen Slottje,  founding attorneys at Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.  Last night, as this Breathing article was getting final edits,  the Slottjes wrote,  “…we will turn a version of this  [notice] into a formal petition to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)

********************************************

First, whether you are a pro-fracking or pro-Moratorium New Yorker,  when you searched the text of Governor Cuomo’s  State of the State Address for some variation of “frac,”  “fractured,”  “frack,”  or “frackturing,”  you were immediately rewarded with several instances of  “FRAC.”   Armed with a fresh cup of coffee or some sedative,  you prepared to delve into the convoluted shoals that are Cuomo’s  gas extraction policy.

And that’s where you encountered the first multi-layered irony.  During the past month, activists sent New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)  more than 200,000 comments about the Agency’s  regs,   draft SGEIS,  its review process and lack of adherence to State law.  Many of those comments were submitted “under protest” and came on the heels of more than 60,000 submitted during the last round of dSGEIS comments.  But the “FRAC” in the Governor’s speech didn’t refer to gas, extraction or hydraulics.  It’s the Food Research and Action Center which studies accessibility to “affordable fresh fruits and vegetables” and the impact of that accessibility on health.  It is a notable initiative but kind of moot if New York’s  fertile foodsheds are fracked.

You settled in a little deeper and began to review the State of the State Address category-by-category.

Under the broad heading of “Economic Development,” Governor Cuomo  touted Tax-Free Hot Spots, Academics and Unemployment Insurance.  He announced, “The Adirondack Challenge, a national rafting and paddling competition…[that] will  focus the world’s attention on the unparalleled natural beauty and recreational opportunities of the Adirondacks to attract tourists to Upstate New York.”

That’s lovely for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks which are protected from fracking by the NYS Constitution, but how will tourists reach those oases if not via a scenic gas drilling byway?   Additionally, as Cuomo  plots to protect some areas of New York State as more worthy of conservation than others, the Adirondack Mountain Club has reminded him, “It is clear from Article XIV, section (3)(1) of the Constitution that the state cannot enter into a lease with any private corporation for the extraction of natural gas from any state forest or reforestation area located in the counties of Greene, Ulster, Sullivan, or Delaware counties.”

Uh oh.

The Governor spoke to the Economy of Tomorrow and laid out a plan to Make New York the Leader in the Clean Tech Economy. He pledged himself to the creation of a workforce capable of meeting the new demands of his 21st century model.

And he drew a special bead on Upstate Economic Development.  He connected the dots between poverty, food deprivation and a failure to thrive. He outlined a plan to bolster our farms and families by strengthening Farm to School Programs. (This is of especial importance to Sullivan County, NY which a recent Robert Woods Johnson Foundation report placed next to last for health factors of all New York State counties.)

The particular attention Cuomo paid to Upstate Economic Development may have set some heads to shaking. On one hand, he lauded the value of Upstate water and  soil resources – citing to them and our foodsheds as indispensable pieces of NY’s economic engine — while,  on the other,  his  SGEIS proposes to protect the NYC and Syracuse watersheds  and leave the Upper Delaware River Basin (and its organic farmers) to the mercy of inadequate setbacks. (Sec.  7.1.5:  Revised Draft SGEIS 2011,  page 7-55.)

For instance,

… as stated in sub-section 7.1.3, the Department proposes that for at least two years the surface disturbance associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing, including well pad and associated road construction and operation, be prohibited within 500 feet of primary aquifers.

And,

… uncovered pits or open surface impoundments that could contain flowback water … are subject to a 300-foot separation distance from water wells under Appendix 5-B of the State Sanitary Code.  Flowback water tanks and additive containers … which require a 100-foot setback from water wells.  Handling and mixing of hydraulic fracturing additives onsite…requires a 150-foot distance from water wells.  The Department proposes that it will not issue well permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing within 500 feet of a private water well or domestic-supply spring, unless waived by the landowner.

If those  “set-back mitigations” strike you as inadequate, then add this nugget to the sludge on your plate:  gas wells in New York State will be permitted within 150 feet of schools.

That’s right.  As Cuomo  outlined a broad range of education improvements with optimistic headings like,  more learning time,  full-time pre-k programs for highest needs students, better teachers, principals and evaluation systems — all excellent proposals —  his SGEIS will allow gas wells to be drilled within 150 feet of those excellent teachers, students, playgrounds, programs and classrooms.

No doubt,  Disassociative Policy Disorder strikes again.

Fighting Hunger in New York

Governor Cuomo has good reasons for envisioning a future-New York where our families are well-nourished by the bounty of our own organic farms. (New York farmers regularly lead the nation in produce donated to food banks and food pantries.  Just sayin’.)

In 2006,  NYS was home to “580 certified organic farms  with 68,864 acres in production.  In addition, there were more than 100 organic processors doing business in the State…”

Only two years later, the US Department of Agriculture reported that  NYS had grown to  827 organic farms and was ranked fourth in the nation as a result.   More,   NYS was second in the country with  319  organic dairy farms;  second to Wisconsin with 99 organic beef farms  and fifth for organic vegetable and melon farms with 190.  (Our $60.2 million dollars in organic milk sales for 2008 placed us fifth in the nation.)

The Governor even cited to  Bay Shore’s Farm to School Project, “Edible EastEnd, an innovative collaboration between Long Island’s Bay Shore Union Free School District, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and Office of General Services, and Long Island potato farmers to increase service of Long Island potatoes in Long Island Schools)…”

And he pledged to create a Statewide Anti-Hunger Task Force with one goal being to increase “the use of New York farm products and healthy foods in anti-hunger programs.”

Yes, while painting a rosy picture of New York State’s schoolchildren being educated for the 21st century in a state fueled by sustainable industries and locally-grown food,  Cuomo’s SGEIS has determined that  many New York  schools and much of our vast foodshed will be left vulnerable to the dangers of crazily inadequate setbacks.

Worse, even if the setbacks seem a dandy solution to you, consider that you and the Governor have overlooked another threat to foodsheds in Upstate New York and the Upper Delaware River Basin:  migrating air pollution from the Hancock compressor,  the Millennium Pipeline and other components of the extraction industry.

Fingers crossed that if airborne contaminants endanger the Organic status of local Upstate NY farms, Vermont won’t charge much to  stock NY’s  school lunch programs.

Human Health

In addition to educating our children and feeding them more and healthier local food,  the Gov is determined that New York will Set the “Gold Standard” for Patient Care.

  • “The best way to improve the health of New Yorkers and to lower health care cost is to avoid preventable illness and the health care interventions they require,” he said.

He even devoted 7.5 typewritten pages to sepsis, “An overwhelming immune and inflammatory response to infection.”  He laid out an entire plan of attack to improve preventative care and to combat nosocomial infections. He was inventive and passionate.

He skipped over the fact that his SGEIS has been roundly decried by doctors, medical societies, nurses and epidemiologists for ignoring the cumulative impacts of gas extraction on human health.

He forgot to mention the plethora of reports coming in from the frontlines of Gasland about endocrine disruptions, immune system dysfunction and leukemia.

He ignored that gas extraction and production companies are exempt from revealing the toxins they use in their processes and that doctors are prohibited from telling injured patients the nature of the gas production toxins that have harmed them.

However, our governor made it clear that he intends to be a juggernaut when it comes to ensuring a fair Public Safety Policy that will open like a protective umbrella over all our heads.  He spoke about gun violence and ended with this,  “Some weapons are so dangerous and some ammunition devices so lethal that we simply cannot afford to continue selling them in our state.”

Yes, Governor Cuomo,  but perhaps there are industries and devices “so lethal that we simply cannot afford”  to welcome them into our communities, either.

I won’t belabor the Governor’s insistence that New York State must improve its reputation for cloaked dealings with lobbyists because one sentence drove all his remonstrations from my head,  “A public database will provide the fullest disclosure of lobbyist and other meetings with state officials in the country.”

Then why, oh why,  Governor Cuomo, did activists have to labor so hard to expose the fact that  Independent Oil and Gas Association  (industry lobbyist) worked hand-in-hand with  NY’s Department of Environmental Conservation to write our State’s gas extraction regulations?

The Governor also outlined a number of new Public Safety initiatives in response to the devastation wrought in New York State by Hurricane Sandy.  He described the NYS 2100 Commission and the importance of building “resiliency” into our “planning, protection and development approaches…”  He vowed to “reduce the emissions that contribute to our changing climate,”  to “increase alternative local renewable power sources,”  and to “provide assistance to property owners to mitigate or sell properties in vulnerable areas.”

Although the Gov is referring to homes damaged or obliterated by Hurricane Sandy,  the door he opens is intriguing.  Will those whose properties are damaged or destroyed by their neighbors’ fracking also be considered “vulnerable?”  Will those property owners also be helped to relocate?  Will they be helped to find a new and better quality of life? Will our organic farmers be rewarded with new  sources of clean water and soil?

And when Cuomo says that,  “Much of New York’s infrastructure is aging and susceptible to damage from extreme weather events or seismic threats,”  is he planning to replace bridges,  roads, and neighborhoods impacted by frack-created earthquakes?

Or when he admits that, “there are miles of aging [ gas] pipeline[s] that are prone to leakage and vulnerable to storm damage (and ground movement) [in New York State],”   does he intend to hire hundreds of new DEC field agents to police, test and enforce remediation of those leaks?  Or will citizens be detailed to stand on either side of the pipes to hold them in place as they rock to the beat of seismic drums?

And when he says we need to “strengthen our wastewater infrastructure” because, “Flooding and storm surges from Lee, Irene, and Sandy resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to waste water treatment plants and the release of hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and undertreated sewage,”  is he considering just how toxic the stew would be with Marcellus Shale’s radioactive materials added to the mix?

Or does he believe that his newly-minted  World-Class Emergency Response Network —  like All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men —   will simply put New York  back together again after the extraction industry has bedded, fracked us, and moved on?

 

**********************

 

Additional Links, Resources and Citations:

“Ecosystem resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future. Humans are part of the natural world. We depend on ecological systems for our survival and we continuously impact the ecosystems in which we live from the local to global scale. Resilience is a property of these linked social-ecological systems (SES). “Resilience” as applied to ecosystems, or to integrated systems of people and the natural environment, has three defining characteristics:

• The amount of change the system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and structure
• The degree to which the system is capable of self-organization
• The ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation”

Source: The Resilience Alliance Website

 

As part of  Governor Cuomo’s  plan to “Harden Our Utilities,”  he wants the following NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) recommendations adopted as soon as possible.  It sounds dandy, actually.  Too bad  these initiatives don’t extend to the Department of Environmental Conservation or the gas extractors that Agency is mandated  to regulate.

  • The PSC will be statutorily authorized to levy administrative penalties against each utility for violations of PSC orders and regulations or upon a finding that such utility has failed to provide safe and adequate service under a “reasonable business” standard (comparable to the prudence standard). The size of the potential penalties will be increased, and provisions will be adopted to ensure that the penalties are paid out of shareholder capital and not passed on to ratepayers.
  • The PSC will be authorized to issue an order that directs a utility to comply with recommendations made pursuant to management and operations audits.
  • The PSC will recommence operational audits at least every five years as currently required under the Public Service Law.
  • To implement the strengthened auditing functions of the PSC, consideration will be given to having a dedicated auditing unit to help ensure that the PSC is well-situated to fully exercise its statutory authority and perform both management and operational audits.
  • Consideration will also be given to creating a dedicated unit for investigating and enforcing utility compliance with PSC orders and recommendations and with utility tariffs.
  • Statutory changes should be considered to explicitly authorize the PSC to formally review the performance of each of the Investor-Owned Utilities to provide safe and adequate service, and order appropriate relief including divestiture of some or all of a utility’s assets, subject to both due process standards and the need for continuity of service. To ensure compliance with the recommendations put forth by the PSC after a review, the Commission also recommends the clear establishment of the PSC’s authority to revoke the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
  • DPS staffing and budgetary levels will be reviewed to ensure they are sufficient to carry out the newly-designed core functions of the PSC, and procedures should be reviewed to ensure cross-training of the existing workforce, implementation of performance management standards and technology upgrades. Given the substantial retirements at DPS in recent years, the agency currently is not staffed to the level authorized in the FY 2012-13 budget of 524 full-time employees (FTE). Based upon the additional mandates that the Commission recommends, the DPS staffing authorization will be maintained in the FY 2013-14 budget and DPS will recruit and hire up to the 524 FTE allotment to assist in implementation and enforcement of the new mandates.
  • Similar to Sarbanes Oxley where CEOs need to certify the validity of their financial statements, consideration will be given to requiring senior officers of each utility to annually certify to the PSC that the utility is acting in compliance with all applicable State laws, rules, regulations, orders, and procedures, including the statutory requirement to provide safe and adequate service.
  • All appointees to the PSC will have demonstrated competence in some aspect of utility regulation as well as a concern for the public well-being.
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bethel, NY’s Hydraulic Fracturing Ban; Public Comments


(Breathing Is Political left the Bethel Town Board’s March 15, 2012 Hearing on Town Law No. 1 of 2012 about twenty minutes before its finish. At that point, thirty members of the public had spoken in favor of the proposed law which would ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing as a high-impact activity in the Town and four members had spoken against the law and in favor of permitting H-VHF activities. According to Larysa Dyrszka, supporters of the legislative ban collected more than 500 petition signatures and at least 100 letters.  

Unfortunately,  the Town of Bethel’s website appears to be “down,”  but  the proposed legislation is scheduled for a vote at one of the April  Town Board meetings which regularly occur on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month at 7:30 pm.  If interested,  the Town’s phone number is:   845-583-4350.)

**********************

On March 15, 2012, the Bethel, NY Town Board heard from the public concerning the Town’s proposed Local Law No. 1 of 2012. (For more information, “findings of fact,” and an explanation of the proposed legislation, please see Appendix A and the Town of Bethel’s Land Use Analysis: Hazardous or Natural Gas and/or Petroleum Acivities and Industrial Uses.)

In introductory remarks, Bethel Town Attorney Robert McEwan described the proposed legislative changes as “explicitly prohibiting certain uses Town-wide” and as “amending Zoning Board procedures.”

According to a February 28, 2012 River Reporter article, Mr. McEwan said, “…that the amendment would not only ban gas drilling, but also a number of processes related to gas drilling, as well as high impact uses.” In the same article, Attorney McEwan clarified that, “High-impact uses are the kinds of industries that put out large amounts of pollution….” (BIP Note: The North American Industry Classification System mentioned in the article categorizes industries and assigns them “classification numbers” which can be researched here. The NAICS “is frequently used for various administrative, regulatory, contracting, taxation, and other-non statistical purposes.”

The provisions of Bethel’s Local Law No. 1 of 2012 most-addressed by speakers at the Hearing are these:

  • (6) Land Use Control. This Local Law is intended to act as and is hereby declared to exercise the permissive “incidental control” by the Town of its police power applied to the area of land use planning and the physical use of land and property within the Town, including the physical externalities associated with certain land uses, such as negative impacts on air and water quality, roadways and traffic congestion and other deleterious impacts on a community. This Law is not intended to regulate the operational processes of any business. This Local Law is a law of general applicability and is intended to promote the interests of the community as a whole; and
  • Sections 345-38 which explicitly prohibit injection wells, natural gas and/or petroleum exploration activities; natural gas and/or petroleum extraction activities, natural gas and/or petroleum extraction, exploration or production waste disposal/storage facilities, natural gas processing facilities, underground injection, high-impact uses and other specified activities.

PUBLIC COMMENTS CONCERNING BETHEL TOWN LAW NO. 1 OF 2012:

Although approximately forty people spoke at the the Hearing, Breathing Is Political offers these excerpted remarks as representative of the statements made:

Margarita Gleyzer referred to the fact that some who support H-VHF have called opponents of the process “fear-mongers.” In response, Ms. Gleyzerr  said, “Fear is an innate quality that keeps us from harm. We are not guaranteed jobs from fracking but we are guaranteed damage to our resources. Fracking is not a small town issue; it’s an international concern.”

Jeffrey Allison referred to many claims made by natural gas extraction companies as “myths:”

  • “We’re told there’s 100 years of shale gas in the Marcellus. At best there’s eleven.” (BIP Note: According to the US Geologic Survey, “The Marcellus Shale contains 84 trillion cubic feet of… technically recoverable natural gas and 3.4 billion barrels of…technically recoverable natural gas liquids…” Using US Energy Information Administration data, the U.S. consumed 24.37 trillion cubic feet in 2011. Accordingly, even if all the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale was actually recovered and not shipped to Norway, Japan, etc., we would gain only an additional 3-5 year supply.)


  • “We’re told that H-VHF will bring thousands of jobs but 77% of jobs are filled by out-of-state workers.” (BIP Note: The Center for Economic and Policy Research begs to differ with industry claims of job creation in Pennsylvania drilling areas: “What the data tell us is that fracking has created very few jobs. In fact, employment in five northeast Pennsylvania counties…with high drilling activity declined by 2.7 percent.” (Even accounting for the recession, CEPR calculates a total of “around 1,350 jobs — [which] includes both direct jobs in the gas industry, indirect jobs in the supply chain and induced jobs from spending by workers and landowners.


  • “We’re told that natural gas is cleaner than coal but scientists disagree.” (BIP note: A study issued out of Cornell University reports that gas extraction’s carbon footprint is likely larger than that of coal production.)

Richard Gebel and many other speakers spoke to the natural beauty of Bethel that might be laid waste by high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

Physicians such as Larysa Dyrszka, James Lomax and Hal Teitelbaum spoke to the human health impacts of H-VHF.  One of their shared concerns is that New York State’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement largely ignores those human health impacts. They talked about the dangers of Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORMs) and their impacts on water, soil, our foodshed – our human ecology. (BIP Note: Gas Drilling Tech Notes — with which BIP is affiliated — has an extensive library of scientific articles concerning H-VHF, the waste and radioactive materials produced by the industry’s processes and their impacts on natural and human environments.)

Eric London, a physician and researcher remarked that to begin fracking without a health impacts study would be unethical and he commended the Town Board for its efforts to protect the residents of Bethel.

Jennifer Young, a Bethel farmer, thanked the Town Board for taking a proactive stance. “The National Farmer’s Union has called for a moratorium. I raise free-range eggs and I depend on the quality of our land and water resources. We must support our farmers. We’ve seen an 18 percent decline in farms where gas extraction occurs.” (BIP Note: Apparently, Ms. Young was referring to a 2007-10 study conducted by Dr. Timothy Kelsey at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Agricultural Science. In his conclusions, Dr. Kelsey states, “Changes in dairy cow numbers also seem to be associated with the level of Marcellus shale drilling activity. Counties with 150 or more Marcellus shale wells on average experienced an 18.7 percent decrease in dairy cows, compared to only a 1.2 percent average decrease in counties with no Marcellus wells.”)

Kate Kennedy, a local business owner and resident in the Town of Delaware said, “We need our creamery. We need our slaughterhouse. We are poised to be the New York City foodshed. Fracking will endanger that.”

Laura Berger responded to frequent industry claims that New York State’s regulatory structure and oversight are the “toughest” by citing to The Environmental Working Group’s assertions that New York State is ill-equipped to oversee H-VHF and quoted, “New York has just 14 inspectors to oversee 13,000 existing natural gas and oil wells.”

Ronald Turner said, “This is a big moment for the Catskills. It might be the biggest since our towns were flooded to create the reservoirs. Fracking is not conducive to the qualities that draw people here.” He asked what would happen as the underground infrastructure that’s necessary for H-VHF begins to decay. “Who will monitor that decaying infrastructure,” he asked.

Of the speakers who asked the Bethel Town Board to delay passage of legislation that would ban H-VHF within the Town’s borders, Bill desRosiers of Energy In Depth‘s Marcellus affiliate — the public relations arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) — was the first to speak and urged the Town Board and Hearing attendees to visit the website, “Frac Focus.” “You can track every well drilled,” he said. “You can find GPS locations and view the chemicals used.” (BIP Note: As Jill Weiner remarked  in her subsequent rebuttal of Mr. desRosiers’ statements, release of chemical-usage information is voluntary, not mandatory.  Further, the Frac Focus site states, “Because the make-up of each fracturing fluid varies to meet the specific needs of each area…” there is still no way of knowing which chemicals were used at a specific site. Additionally, only non-proprietary chemicals are listed at Frac Focus.)

Mr. desRosiers also referred to the March 15, 2012 press release from the Environmental Protection Agency detailing its findings to date on water samples from Dimock, PA. “EPA’s testing in Dimock failed to show elevated levels of contamination,” he claimed. (BIP Note: A reading of the actual press release shows that contamination was discovered, that the testing is incomplete and that “EPA will continue to provide water” to three of the homes which are currently receiving such deliveries. Relatedly, Water Defense has asked several serious questions concerning EPA Region 3’s handling of the Dimock situation which has diverged significantly from investigations conducted by other EPA regional offices. Following EPA’s March 15th announcement, Dimock-resident Scott Ely drew water from his well and collected it in a plastic jug on March 16, 2012.  Thanks to Michael Lebron for this timely photo.)

In conclusion, Mr. desRosiers asked the Town Board to delay its approval of its proposed Town Law 1-2012, “Appeals will be filed in the Dryden and Middlefield cases. I urge you to await the results of the appeals process.” (BIP Note: Mr. desRosiers reference is to two recent New York State Court decisions which upheld the right of local jurisdictions to restrict certain activities within their boundaries.)

Sondra Bauernfeind, the former Chair of the Sullivan County Conservative Party, opined that “Zoning reduces property rights” and reiterated Mr. desRosiers’ request that the Town Board delay approval of the proposed law until “higher courts weigh-in” on the Dryden and Middlefield decisions. Further, Ms. Bauernfeind suggested that laws which prohibit a landowner’s exploitation of his/her property’s resources amount to a taking. “Delaware County wants $81 billion from NYC for property takings.(BIP note: Several courts have dealt with this issue of “takings” (or “Inverse Condemnation” as it’s known in the law) and many legal scholars have concluded that such claims will be struck down in the courts. An introduction to the topic can be found in BIP’s article, “Gas Drilling: Inverse Condemnation: Private vs. Public Interests.”

Harold Russell, a former Bethel Town Board member and opponent of the proposed Town Law pointed to foreclosures in Sullivan County and the dearth of employment for young people in our communities. “Use your heads not your politics!” he finished. (BIP Note: For more on property values, mortgages and natural gas extraction, please see “Rush to Drill for Natural Gas Creates Conflicts With Mortgages.”)

******************

In addition to the many Town of Bethel residents who spoke, residents from the Towns of Delaware, Lumberland, Cochecton and Callicoon were also in attendance, due, presumably, to the potential for natural gas exploration, extraction and processing activities being conducted in their Towns.

If you live in a Town where high-volume hydraulic fracturing is being considered, be aware that the process in Bethel has taken, to date, approximately fifteen months.  One resident close to Bethel’s process suggested,  “It makes sense for Towns just looking into zoning protections to consider a moratorium first.  With that in place, they can begin to address potential zoning changes.”

For more information on moratorium efforts, The Community Environmental Defense Council —  David and Helen Slottje —  is the  non-profit public interest law firm based in Ithaca, New York that worked — for free —  with  Bethel and many other Towns in New York. 

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), based in Pennslvania,   “is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, the local economy, and quality of life.  Our mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Walk About Water: Callicoon, NY


(Many thanks to all who organized the Walk About Water community potluck in Callicoon.  It was a wonderful evening.   And especial thanks to Marci MacLean for offering her photos to Breathing.  This is what loving a place and taking joy in it looked like in our River town on April 18, 2011.)

The Walk About Water  website  announced,  “ON APRIL 17TH THROUGH 23,2011, five women will walk 90 miles from the Neversink Reservoir, NY to Salt Springs State Park, PA. We will carry a hand crafted “AMPHORA” of clean water taken from Buttermilk Falls in the Catskill Mountains to a place where water is endangered. WALK ABOUT WATER is a grassroots initiative to raise awareness of the sacredness of our water and our land. We will send this water around the world to other endangered lands, as a simple act of solidarity.”

On  Monday  April 18,   forty or so Upper Delaware River Basin residents met  at the Callicoon Youth Center pavilion for a community potluck dinner and to await the arrival of Bess PathChef Deanna and Chrys Countryman.  The three  Walk About Water women had trekked (see the map!)  from the Neversink River to the Delaware for 10 heartfelt reasons:

1. Six women from NY and PA, grateful to live in a place of abundant clean water
2. We represent Mothers, Grandmothers, Sisters, and Daughters
3. We are moved to action by the threat of contaminated water from the extraction of fossil fuels.
4.Our concern over the harm that will come to our families and future generations
   prevents us from simply living our lives peacefully and gratefully.
5. We demand that public health and quality of life for future generations take priority in  decisions that affect everyone.
6. To illustrate our concerns we are carrying the most precious substance on the planet -water -90 miles on foot.
7. We do this to bring attention to how precious and vulnerable this essential resource truly is.
8 The need for clean water is something everyone has in common.
9. We seek to make this important point by visibly honoring what we love.
10 We  bring good wishes to all water drinkers and bath takers.
Tears of appreciation, smiles of joy and loud applause greeted the women’s arrival.  Tannis Kowalchuk was already dressed and negotiating hugs while on  stilts.  Greg Swartz explained the many ways he, Tannis and Simon ensure that their organic farm, Willow Wisp,  produces  excellent food with the least possible water.   A welcome fire was lit and we all noshed on a smorgasbord of salads, chili, bread, chicken, appetizers and desserts provided by each and every one of us.
Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Tannis Kowalchuk, performer and artistic director of the NACL Theater, prepares to "walk about water" on stilts. Tannis, her husband Greg Swartz and their son Simon also own the organic Willow Wisp Farm which offers great CSA deals.

Walking About Water down Callicoon, NY's Main Street.
         And then we joined the Walk About Water women for a stroll down Callicoon’s Lower Main Street  and across the bridge to Pennsylvania
        where we paused because it felt so good.
Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Forty or so water enthusiasts cross the Delaware River in the rain. They look a bit like May flowers, don't you think? In 2010, American Rivers named the Upper Delaware River, "America's Most Endangered River."

Walk About Water Grassroots Event

Misty rain and smiling faces on the Callicoon bridge to Pennsylvania.

The next day,  we  received this note  of thanks and the tears flowed all over again:
We are staying the night in one of the most beautiful communities of people we have ever seen, they gave us a party, walked with us from ny to pa,
raised money for us and sent us off with such love that we will take with us on our journey..words cannot express how full our hearts are..
THANK YOU CALLICOON NY,DAMASCUS PA WE SHOULD ALL LIVE THE WAY THEY DO

Water Walkers~

Chef Denna,Chrys Countryman, Bess Path

Guardians~Frank and Francena

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Oscar Night: Open Letter to President Obama


Dear Readers:  Please  celebrate having two of The Upper Delaware River Valley’s sons nominated for  Academy awards:   Josh Fox for “Gasland” and Mark Ruffalo for  “The Kids Are All Right.”

At this auspicious time in world history, send your own letter about Hydraulic Fracturing  to President Obama.   (Many thanks to Marcia Nehemiah for sending both  this link and one for today’s NY Times report on hydraulic fracturing to  The Upper Delaware Network.)

*   *   *   *  *

 

Dear President Obama,

While you watch the Oscars tonight, you will see clips from “Gasland.”  Please watch them carefully.  The people in the movie are my brothers and sisters.

The waters of the Delaware River Valley   meet the thirsts of 17+ million people and they  are under threat.  (Lower Valley,  Upper Valley)

I thought the Gulf, Flower Mound,  Dimock, PA and scores of others  would be sufficient to show the careless disregard with which gas extractors ply their dangerous trade.  I was wrong.

Gas extracted from my valley does not represent energy independence:  much of it will ship to BP,  Norway, and others.

“Big Coal”  lied to us years ago and its  agenda was shoved down our throats with the connivance of our leaders and representatives.  Pennsylvania and  New York are no better off  — and are probably worse —  for that sad chapter in our histories.

“Big Energy?”  “Clean Gas?”  Just more “Big Coal.”

How many more people have to sicken?   How many more fields & forest lands  have to be destroyed?   (Please support a National Moratorium on Hydraulic Fracturing!)

How many more neighborhoods, livelihoods, properties have to be wasted by 600+ undisclosed  “proprietary” chemicals? (Please support the Frac Act!)

There comes a point when ambition and greed are just unseemly, Mr. President.  And as we saw and voted in 2008,  ignorance of the cost of something is not an excuse for supporting it.  (The Iraq War.)

Please!  Watch the movie.  No matter what control you believe your opponents wield,  it’s nothing to the power being generated by the  flora and fauna in my valley or the risk they face.

Sincerely,

Liz Bucar

Breathing Is Political

 

 
8 Comments

Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Town of Delaware Board; Home Rule; Conflict of Interests; Public’s Right to Know


Dear Readers,  After three weeks  without my laptop,  I’m  b-a-a-ck.  As always, I’ve provided Town of Delaware meeting notes according to  how the meeting unfolded.  Although  Town Clerk McBeath’s  notes are generally excellent (as was commented by an audience member this past meeting)  Breathing has the wherewithal to provide more context for a more  (hopefully!) complete understanding of the issues discussed.   If you’re a Reality TV fan,  come on down  to the Delaware Town Hall on the third Wednesday of each month at 7:00 PM. The meetings have been packed recently and…lively!   Despite the sometimes contentious nature of  discussions,  it’s  important to note how many fine people are contributing productively to the life of our Town.  Take especial note of  the grants being written and improvements being planned.

NEW  &  OLD  BUSINESS

According to a spokesperson for Mr. James “Jimmy”  Hughson (Jeff Sanitation and J. Hughson Excavating companies),  New York State’s Department of  Environmental Conservation (NY-DEC) has informed the garbage hauler he must move his collection facility indoors as part of  a required upgrade.   The upgrade of  Mr. Hughson’s proposed  “private transfer station”  (located east of Jeffersonville on the  East Branch of the Callicoon Creek)  is being considered by the Town’s Planning Board as a Special Non-conforming Use under  the Town’s  ZoningLaw.  Mr. Hughson’s spokesperson said the proposal will provide more storage capacity, will not increase the amount of garbage accepted at the site and will  reduce the number of truck trips.    “Mr. Hughson will collect the trash and sort it at his facility.”

When Town Assessor, Linda Schwartz,  commented to Mr. Hughson that she didn’t understand why he  would undertake the project because it sounded as if   his costs would increase  due to the upgrade while his profits would decrease due to his hauled-tonnage remaining  the same,   Mr. Hughson shrugged.

Town Clerk, Tess McBeath,  who sits on the County’s  Solid Waste Task Force,  explained that the County has proposed simplifying management of the solid waste stream by instituting  “single stream recycling.”  (Instead of  individual  households separating plastics, glass, metals, etc.,  as is done currently,   a  “sorting” company would do the separating and also transport the recyclables out of state.)  “The County isn’t looking to put haulers  out of business,”  Ms. McBeath continued.  “…it’s  asked for  $6.5 million  to build a transfer station….”

In 2009, according to the Times Herald Record,  Mr. Hughson was charged by the DEC for illegal dumping at the site.  In 1988,  the DEC ordered Mr. Hughson to cap and close  a landfill (near the current site)  which was owned and operated by him.*

The Town Board unanimously agreed to write a letter of recommendation in favor of Mr. Hughson’s  proposal.

Local businessman, Robert DeCristofaro, reported  what he believes are several discrepancies in his sewer assessment and the Board agreed to review the Town’s  billing.

While making her Town Clerk’s report,  Ms. McBeath  said,  “Many older, disabled folks come into my office.  I’ve asked several times that the Town Highway Department install handicapped parking signs that it already has so  those folks don’t have to walk so far.”   She then asked the Town Board to help her get the additional signs erected.

Highway Superintendent William Eschenberg interrupted Ms. McBeath.  “You stop.  You just stop right now.  I don’t work for you. You don’t like me and I don’t like you. There’s a sign out there.  If  they can’t read one sign they won’t be able to read three.”

To which Ms. McBeath responded,  “You forget who pays your salary.  This isn’t about me; this isn’t personal,”  and asked several times to be permitted to continue with her report.

While the back-and-forth between the two Town officials continued for several minutes — and the Board sat mum —   audience members called for Mr. Eschenberg to allow the Clerk’s report to resume.  When a local resident said,  “I don’t understand what’s happening here,” and told Mr. Eschenberg he was “being rude,”  the Highway Superintendent replied,  “I know you don’t understand” and asked the audience member to go outside with him so the matter could be explained.

Finally,  Ms. McBeath said to Supervisor Scheutzow,  “I need direction, Jim,”  and  Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “I’ll deal with it.”

Ms. McBeath also reported that the Town collected $2,580 in building fees during the month of May 2010.  (According to data obtained by Breathing with a  Freedom of Information Request,  eight fewer permits have been issued to-date this year than during the same period in 2009.    However,  as of 6/18/10,  fees  have totaled, apparently,  $13,519  an approximate $6,000 increase over the first six months of 2009.)

Mr. Eschenberg asked for, and received,  permission to  put the Town’s heating oil purchase out to bid.

The Building Inspector,  Mr. Howard Fuchs,  was not in attendance and so no report was made.

Tax Assessor, Linda Schwartz, reported  the Town’s  equalization and assessment rates  have increased to 57%.  (That means   Town property holders  will be paying taxes on  57%  of their  property’s value — a larger percent than last year.)

As reported by  the Town’s  Grants Coordinator, Ms. Kara McElroy,  The Town has received six proposals for  its  sewer project and must decide by  June 30, 2010 who will receive the bid.  In addition,  the Town of Delaware and three other River Towns are applying for a share in  a Scenic Byway Grant which will total $25,000.

Mr. Michael Chojnicki  reported that the hamlets of Callicoon, Narrowsburg and Barryville have applied for a $750,000  Community Development Block Grant.  Each Hamlet  would receive $250,000 and Callicoon  would use the funds for lights,  parking lot re-pavement (in the Klimchok lot),  shoring up the retaining wall near the same location, improved parking in front of the movie theater,  sidewalks and nicer connections between Upper and Lower Main Streets.

The Town Board awarded a municipal trash removal contract to Thompson Sanitation but when audience member Jim Hughson pointed out that  Thompson’s bid was significantly higher than Sullivan First’s,  the Board unanimously  rescinded  its decision.  New bids will be accepted and subsequently opened on  July 21, 2010 at 6:55 PM.

PUBLIC COMMENT


Mr. Roy Tedoff  read an excerpt of NYS Assembly Bill  A10633 which states, in part,

“Currently, local government officials are confused  about whether  their  local  zoning  ordinances are preempted by state law and regulation in relation to the oil, gas, and solution mining industries.  NY Court of Appeals  case  law  interprets  provisions  of  the  ECL  [Environmental Conservation Law] to conclude  that  a town’s zoning. ordinance does not “relate to the regulation” of the industry, as prohibited by subdivision 2 of S 23-0303  of the  environmental  conservation  law, but rather serves to regulate the location, construction and use of buildings and land within the town, as delegated to local government by Article IX of the State Constitution. This legislation clarifies that current  local  zoning  law,  and  local zoning  laws  enacted  in  the  future, will dictate where oil, gas, and solution mining is a permissible use, even with a regulatory program  at the state level.”

Mr. Tedoff  then said,  “Since the Town Board can use its zoning power,  you should.  It’s a no-brainer….We  voters  have a right to know where the Town stands on the drilling issue.”

Mr. Tedoff then asked  members of the Town Board to reveal  any interest in drilling either they,  their associates or family members have.

Mr. Scheutzow replied,  “Whose business is it to know?  Next, you’ll want to know what my bank  statement is.”

(According to Section 808 and Section 811 of New York State’s General Municipal Law,  Mr. Scheutzow, council members  and other public officials in the Town of Delaware are subject to annual financial disclosure requirements.)  Also according to Section 808,  the Town can appoint a Board of Ethics to review possible ethics violations and  to be the repository of  Town officials’  financial disclosures.  Section 808,  also allows that  if such a Town Board of Ethics is not established,  the County Ethics Board can be appealed to for an opinion.  (Breathing has found no evidence that  the Town of Delaware  established a Board of Ethics but has asked for clarification with  a Freedom of Information request.)

Breathing has  already provided some information on  the issue of conflicts of interest and public officialsSection 809 of the General Municipal Law also requires disclosures by public officials and Section 812 details the information officials are required to disclose  (Financial Disclosure Form NYS GML).  In fact,  according to the Town of Delaware’s own  Code of Ethics,

The rules of ethical conduct of this Resolution as adopted, shall not conflict with, but shall be in addition to any prohibition of Article 18 of the General Municipal Law or any other general or special law relating to ethical conduct and interest in contracts of municipal officers and employees.

(e) Disclosure of interest in legislation. To the extent that he/she knows thereof, a member of the Town Board and any officer or employee of the Town of Delaware, whether paid or unpaid, who participates in the discussion or gives official opinion to the Town Board on any legislation before the town Board, shall publicly disclose on the official record the nature and extent of any direct or indirect financial or other private interest he/she has in such legislation.

(f) Investments in conflict with official duties. He/she shall not invest or hold any investment directly or indirectly in any financial, business, commercial or other private transaction, which creates a conflict with his official duties.

Section 5. Distribution of Code of Ethics. The Supervisor of the Town of Delaware shall cause a copy of this Code of Ethics to be distributed to every officer and employee of the Town within thirty (30) days after the effective date of this Resolution. Each officer and employee elected or appointed thereafter shall be furnished a copy before entering upon the duties of his/her office or employment.

Section 6. Penalties. In addition to any penalty contained in any other provision of law, any person who shall knowingly and intentionally violate any of the provisions of this code may be fined, suspended or removed from office or employment, as the case may be, in the manner provided by law.

(The Franklin County District Attorney has said about an ethics investigation in his  countyOur investigation has revealed several contracts, easements, lease option agreements, cooperation memoranda and other types of documents which disclose relationships existing between elected officials and certain third parties in Franklin County (as well as other elected officials in other Counties) which, when allegedly coupled with certain decision making and board action, may be in violation of General Municipal Law (GML) 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d). If such violations have occurred, these public officials may also be in violation of Penal Law Section 195.00, Official Misconduct and/or Penal Law Section 200….”)
In  response to Mr. Tedoff’s  request that the Town Board  adopt a resolution in support of  The Home Rule Bill ( NYS Assembly Bill  A10633),  Mr. Roeder said,  “Why would we support legislation that’s  a plan to burden the towns to do things they shouldn’t be involved with?”

As a matter of clarification,  Breathing offered,     “A10633 is  the so-called, ‘Home Rule”  bill.’   It’s an effort by our  Assemblymember, Aileen Gunther — and other co-sponsors —  to clarify what the Town’s zoning jurisdiction is and  to restore local control over  zoning districts to local governments.  You have the right to zone heavy industry out of  a ‘rural residential district.’  I’d think you’d want local control back.”

Mr. Scheutzow said,  “That’s your opinion.”

Breathing Is Political:  “Perhaps  you could ask your Town Attorney to  contact Assemblymember Gunther  who’s a co-sponsor of the Bill.  Perhaps she or a legal person in her office could  clarify the purpose of the Bill.”

Mr. Scheutzow:   “No matter how many times this Board tries to explain that we only have control over the roads,  some people just don’t get it.”

Breathing Is Political:   “Then perhaps you could ask the Town Attorney to reach out to the State Assembly because obviously,  members of the Assembly disagree with you about the Town’s zoning prerogatives.”

There was no response from the Town Board to the suggestion.  Nor did any members of the Board respond to Mr. Tedoff’s request that they disclose any interests in drilling.**

IN THE PARKING LOT AFTER THE MEETING

In a discussion outside the Town Hall after the meeting had ended,  Craig and Julie Sautner (Dimock residents and plaintiffs in a Federal lawsuit against Cabot Oil) spoke with  Mr. Noel Van Swol (Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association).  In response to  the Sautners’ continued assertions that  the hydraulic fracturing process  left their water  undrinkable and contaminated with methane, Mr. Van Swol stated,  “I’ve been told that methane occurs naturally in the water in Dimock and that’s why your water’s contaminated.”

Mr. Craig Sautner replied,  “That’s not true and we can prove it.  The chemical composition of naturally-occurring methane is very different than what’s released into the water by hydraulic fracturing.  And what we’ve got in our wells is not natural. We’ve got the lab tests to prove it.”

When Mr. Van Swol was asked,  “If  700 gas wells are drilled,  would it be acceptable to you if  five families’ water wells were contaminated,”  Mr. Van Swol replied, “Yes.  That would be acceptable.”

“And if your well was contaminated?”  he was asked in a follow-up,  “what would you do?”

“I’d take the company to court,”  he answered.

The Sautners explained to Breathing that at the time of   Robert Kennedy, Jr.’s visit to Dimock,  Cabot Oil was supplying the family with water in “buffalo tanks.”    After his visit and because it appeared to him that the “buffalo” water was contaminated,  the Sautners asked Cabot to provide them with clean well water.  For a while,  the company complied but has subsequently refused to continue the practice.  According to Mr. Sautner, if his family wants  Cabot to  replace the water  the company allegedly destroyed,  they’ll have to settle for the questionable  “buffalo”  brew.

ASTERISKS

*DISCLOSURE:  Liz Bucar was a member of   Citizens for a Clean Callicoon Creek which lobbied for closure of  Mr. Hughson’s  Landfill in 1988  because, in part,  the landfill was located in close proximity to the East Branch of the  Creek and  over an aquifer.

**Breathing was  informed recently by a confidential source that  Councilmember,  Harold Roeder — who is also Chair of the Upper Delaware Council — had admitted privately to having signed a gas lease.  In a follow-up phone call from Breathing, Mr. Roeder adamantly denied the allegation,  “That’s an absolute lie!” he said.  “I’ve never spoken with a gas person in my whole life.”

 
16 Comments

Posted by on June 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

International Workers’ Day; Immigration Reform; Gas Drilling Industrialization


May 1st  was International Workers’ Day.  Some call it   “The Real Labor Day.”

In 1886,  the American Federation of Labor (AFL)  called on workers to strike any business that refused to abide by an 8-hour  workday.   According to Howard Zinn’s  A People’s History of the United States, (1995, p. 264)  on May 1,  1886,

350,000 workers in 11,562 establishments all over the country went out on strike.  In Chicago, 40,000 struck and 45,000 were granted a shorter working day to prevent them from striking.  Every railroad in Chicago stopped running and most of the industries in Chicago were paralyzed.  The stockyards were closed down.”

In 1880,  The United States’ population was approximately 50 million and  Chicago’s   was 500,000. According to the 1880 Census Compendium Part II,  there were   2.8 million  men, women and children working in the nation’s 254,000  manufacturing  facilities.  Using  Zinn’s figures then,  approximately 13% of US workers  went out on strike  May 1, 1886.

Imagine if,  in 2009,  13% of  the US’  140 million “documented”  workers had struck for  universal health care  and a living wage.   Go ahead.  Imagine  18 million  workers thronging the  streets, hand-in-hand, to advocate  for themselves, their children and the future of this nation.

In 1983,  the year my oldest son was born, we were in the middle of another “economic downturn.”  A gallon of gas cost $1.25,  a Dodge Ram truck cost $5700 and the average monthly rent was  $335.  Cleaning toilets and pushing a lawnmower earned me $10 an hour.  (When I saved enough to buy my father’s old riding mower, I was able to ask $15 an hour for larger properties.)

Seventeen years later, after the boom times of the 1990’s,  most of us freelance “domestic workers”  could make  $15-20 an hour.  Around that same time, our counterparts in New York City were  being paid  in the $25-30 range.

In July  2009 – the costs of most everything having doubled since 1983 —   the US  minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour.

This past May 1st,  I worked and was glad for it  though I know  Grandma and Grandpa were  rolling in their graves.  (May 1st was the date my family eschewed labor for history;  the day we  remembered  Samuel Gompers,  the AFL  and the perfidy of  police officers who helped  smother labor’s demands for living wages, humane working conditions and  equal pay regardless of  gender and race.)

On May 1, 2010,  I informed a prospective employer  that “I’d have to charge $20 an hour to clean his house”  and cited to the round-trip  travel time, cost of products, gas,  fuel oil, rent, etc.

The weighty pause on the other end of the phone and the aghast rejoinder took me by surprise,  “We won’t pay that.  We don’t pay more than $15 an hour in the City.”

“That’s interesting,”  said I.  “A few years ago,  the going rate for housekeepers in the City was nearer $25-30 an hour.”

“Not anymore,”  came the smug-sounding reply.

There are times when my naivete is unforgivable.

I asked another  “City dweller” — a member of a  white collar union  and gas drilling opponent —   what the going rate for domestic services  is in her neighborhood.  “Ten dollars an hour,”  she answered.  “But that’s because we have so many ‘illegals.'”

“‘Illegals?  You mean ‘undocumented workers?'”

She shrugged.

So for those of you who oppose gas drilling and own homes  in the City as well as in our rural Pennsylvania and New York communities, remember this simple action + action = results equation:

When you pay less than subsistence wages to  the “undocumented human”  who has to buy groceries and pay rent  in Manhattan,  Brooklyn or Long Island,

YOU  DRIVE DOWN  the wages of the person struggling  beside you in Callicoon, Milanville and Honesdale and

YOU ENSURE MORE WORKERS  WILL SIGN LEASES IN HOPES OF WINNING THE  GAS LOTTERY.

When I raised this issue of wage depression with friends who live both rurally and in the City,  I was told their  ability to share the wealth is constrained  by their loss of retirement funds;  that their “disposable” income has been drastically reduced  by cutbacks in their businesses and occupations.

I understand.  My bank account plunged right beside yours and Sullivan County’s  real unemployment figure is nearer 20% than the officially cited  10.9%

So given that we’re all in  greatly reduced circumstances,  here’s my deal:  I’ll reduce my housekeeping charges by $5  to $15 an hour if you’ll promise to increase my counterpart’s  wage in the City to a  $15 cash rate.

If you can still afford to hire domestic help, for your own sake,  pay them a living wage.  Otherwise, whose disposable income will  keep you in business?

I saved money during the 1983 downturn.  I paid the hospital and obstetrician  cash for their services.

The son born to me in 1983  was admitted to the New York State Bar last week.  If he was born today,  I doubt he’d ever see the inside of a law school.

Breathing is Political because our personal political, economic and social decisions influence the growth of a child in our neighbor’s womb.  A child’s life depends, in large part,  on the health of the mother and on  the parents’  ability to provide nutritious meals, books, ideas, a secure home and a realistic dream for the future.

For all workers, the breadth of that dream and its attainability  depend on you and me  caring about equitable treatment for all.  It does NOT depend on any one of us short-changing another simply because we can.

As for union workers who de-value the work and lives  of others’,  as I write this,  America’s teachers’ unions are the new target of labor reforms.  If the rest of us are busy scrabbling for each spare nickle,  when will we have leisure to come to your defense?

 
8 Comments

Posted by on May 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sullivan County Legislator David Sager vs. “Goliath” John Bonacic?


Before   Sullivan County Legislator,  Dr. David Sager,  (District 1)  took the podium  at his press conference this afternoon,  he arranged a pair of yellow and blue campaign signs on either side of the podium.  The signs proclaimed,  “Sager  for State Senate. No nonsense. Honest Leadership.”

Literally, the  announcement may  change the face of  NYS Senate District 42.

Not only did Sager  announced his intention to  challenge long-time incumbent Republican John Bonacic, but   he will do it as a Democrat.

Sullivan County Democratic Chair, Steve Wilkinson,   introduced Dr. Sager and welcomed   Delaware County’s  Democratic  Chairwoman Cindy Lockrow-Schimmerling and various other Democratic Party notables.

“I’d like to address the large elephant in the room,”  Mr. Wilkinson began.  “David  is changing his  political affiliation from Republican to Democrat.  This is not an opportunistic change but a a philosophical change,”  Mr. Wilkinson  continued to loud applause.   “To borrow from Winston Churchill,  ‘There’s nothing  wrong with change as long as it’s in the right direction.’  Democrats wholeheartedly welcome David to the Democratic Party. For too long  the New York State Senate has been the log jam to realizing change in New York. It has been mired in its own personal politics.”

Obviously, it  was not just any elephant Mr. Wilkinson was talking about.  Dr. Sager has held his  Sullivan County Legislative seat as a Republican.  In order for him to face Bonacic as a Democrat  in a  General Election,  he must get the nod from the  Democratic Chairs of the four  counties  which  comprise District 42:  Sullivan,  Ulster, Delaware and  a piece of Orange.

Ulster  County Legislator, Susan Zimet  (D, District 10)  campaigned against John Bonacic in 2006.  Although her effort fell short by roughly 12,000 votes,  it was a strong showing against the then-16-year incumbent. (Bonacic first became a member of the New York State Assembly in  1990 and has served in the NYS Senate since 1998.)  Zimet’s  2006 campaign website is still  up and available for viewing here.

Dr. Sager’s opening remarks  perhaps signaled  the tone he hopes to strike during the upcoming campaign.  “During the course of my service on the Sullivan County Legislature,  I have been honest and passionate. I have not been afraid of issues that were unpopular or complex.  If you liked me as a Republican, you will like me even more as a Democrat.  I will contuinue to champion fair and just causes and it won’t  matter to me if an idea is Republican or Democratic as long as it’s a good idea.  After  years of consideration,  I have changed my party enrollment and  have done so in good conscience.   I still stand  for fiscally  responsible and accountable government but my social views have evolved and are more in concert with core Democratic Party values.”

Taking on some who have criticized him  for  verbal  gaffs,  Sager said,  smiling at  The Times-Herald Record’s reporter,   “I have a reputation for having a  salty tongue — per The Times-Herald Record.  I will continue to be candid and fight for what’s  right. I will put the people first. Our state government is broken…and our current State  Senator is a long-time part of the problem. Unfunded state mandates have crippled  local governments and placed the burden on local taxpayers.”

“State Senator Bonacic  advocates for unfettered gas drilling.  I want a society and  government that asks at what price do we support industrial development that is potentially lethal to us  all.    At what point do we say no to large corporations who put their profits  first?   Gas drilling must be safe, legal, economically beneficial to all and subject  to local controls. We must take a hard look at a comprehensive  Environmental Protection Agency  study of gas drilling.  We must  support the Englebright bill which will institute a drilling moratorium in New York State until 120 days after the EPA releases the results of its study.   It’s a simple, sensible bill.  We can  wait for the science. We have a responsibility to provide safe drinking water to our children and families…. Safe drinking water is a right not a privilege.  Senator Bonacic  has been misguided [about gas drilling] while  I have been demanding a rational approach.  There must be a return to  local control. ‘Drill,  baby,  drill’  is a slogan not a policy.”

At a recent County Legislature meeting, Dr. Sager said  that the drilling issue  should not pit  farmers against non-farmers.  “It’s not an agricultural issue.  It’s about the industrialization of New York.”

“We must ask,  ‘Will the growth we advocate be sustainable?  How will  New York State and  District 42 grow?’  The 42nd District is in the process of becoming an important economic link to New York City  —  an important link to  a  sustainable lifestyle —  industrially, personally and agriculturally.”

On other topics, Dr. Sager  reminded the audience,  “I have sponsored sweeping and meaningful ethics reform for Sullivan County and  I will be at the head of it in New York State.”

“I will champion property tax reform and will be joining  Sullivan County Treasurer, Ira Cohen,  in  continuing to  review  tax exempt policies.  Large tracts of land and living complexes end up off  the tax rolls.  People cannot continue to vacation in the 42nd district for free.”

“I will fight for our schools, teachers and students so students can afford the college education they need and I’m determined to ensure our region has  the  infrastructure it will need  to benefit small businesses.”

“I’m going to need your help.  We need people who passionately support our cause. We need volunteers who will go door-to-door.  Please contact us at:  sagerforsenator@gmail.com until we get our website up and running which will be very soon.”

After his prepared remarks, Breathing asked Dr.  Sager  what he had to  say about local drilling issues and ethics reform.

“The county is in the  process, because of  my fierce prodding, of completely re-doing  our ethics policy.   As to drilling, I have not taken an anti  approach but there has been a general and blind pursuit of drilling without a necessary analysis of the science.  DEC’s  [NYS Department of Environmental Conservation] employees have  said the draft Supplemental Generic Impact Study is seriously flawed and no local official should be questioning that statement.”

Dr. Sager was also asked  how changing his  political party affiliation will affect his status with the Sullivan County Legislature.   “I’ve got a great working relationship with Jonathan [Rouis] and Woody [Elwin Wood]. I intend to caucus as a Democrat.”

A member of the  public  asked,  “Are you going to support green technology that  will help us avoid dependence on  Middle East  oil?”  and Dr. Sager reiterated,  “I want to turn the 42nd District into an area that promotes green technology. It’s how we’re going to grow our area.”

When Breathing asked a Sager supporter about  the candidate’s “salty tongue” remark,  the long-time patient of   “Dr. Dave”  said,  “Does he step in it sometimes?  Yeah.  He’s a passionate guy.  He’s not always smooth but that’s why I like him.  He does his homework and doesn’t have a lot of patience for  political games.”

For information on the amounts of money  NYS Senator Bonacic has raised in the past,  comprehensive postings have been made available  FROM PROJECT VOTE SMART and FROM THE DAILY KOS. Dr. Sager should hold on to his hat because both sites have published campaign war chest  figures for the Senator  in the $700,000 range.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on April 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Texas Mayor: Drilling, Barnett Shale, Property Values and More


Dear Breathing Readers:   “Mel” (Comment #7 under  “Cochecton Zoning and Mortgage Troubles”)  says,  “It would be an education for NY to study an area where drilling has worked to most people’s benefit, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, and panicking. It’s all been done before.”

In response,  Breathing agrees.  “It has all been done before.”  For a different view  of  drilling in the Barnett,  Breathing offers this article by Mayor Calvin Tillman of DISH, Texas. In large part,  his exposition relies on the inherent economic infrastructure of gas drilling and its industry.   (The Mayor references air quality studies done in DISH.  Those studies have  revealed that not only were the air and water  contaminated by the gas industry, but so were  the people.)  For readers who just want to scan the article, I’ve tried to highlight it by topic.

Because some circumstances in DISH are different than what we may encounter in New York,  here’s a link to an article written by a resident of Dimock, PA where Marcellus drilling and its impacts are a daily fact of  life. It’s  clear  that Mel’s assurance that one “never hears  about [drilling]  affecting home or land prices” in the Barnett Shale  is not accurate.

***********************************************

Is the juice worth the squeeze?

When taking over as mayor of DISH, the first question that was asked by the local media outlets was to respond to the fact that our property values as a whole had decreased considerably from the past year. This is where small towns and cities get the bulk of their funding, through taxes on these property values. Therefore, if the taxable value goes down, naturally the revenue for the town does as well. Now I must say that I am opposed to unnecessary taxation, and therefore have done everything I can to make the taxes here the lowest in the area, and succeeded. However, the town has doubled in size over the last couple of years, yet the taxable value continued to drop. This baffled me how essentially the total value of the town drops every year, while were experiencing massive growth.

Not only did it baffle me, but it concerned me. As most small towns do, we use the county tax assessor’s office to perform the tax collection service for us, so they were my first call. When they explained the mineral values were the cause of this drop, and that was sixty percent of our tax base, I was again stunned. As you know we are located in the middle of the Barnett Shale, and have had a great deal of exploration in this area. So what would cause the values to continue to drop? This was also during the timeframe when natural gas prices were climbing to all time record highs.

As I investigated the source of the decline in my town it all started to become apparent. The property values not tied to minerals have continued to drop. I believe this is mostly due to the massive natural gas compressors, pipelines and metering stations. They have all but made the surface property here worthless; however, that does not account for the minerals which is over half of our taxable values. I then found that on average, each well drilled loses fifty percent of its production after the first year. That is a huge drop in production in only one year. So that tells me that the only way to maintain the same mineral value is to drill fifty percent more wells every year. So if you have ten wells this year, you would need to drill five more next year just to maintain the same production.

Many of the local cities have went on a sort of spending spree with the new found wealth from the natural gas minerals, and are now finding themselves in a financial crunch. The facts that I taught myself through this simple question from an intuitive reporter has made a world of difference on how I approached this problem here in DISH. We are frugal at best here, making the most of every dollar we get. We have cut the town debt in half, built a massive park, a library, repaved roads and performed substantial upgrades to town facilities and done this while lowering taxes and not dipping into the emergency fund we have in only two years.

To the real point, is what do minerals play into all of this? As previously mentioned we have over half of our tax dollars that come from the minerals, more specifically the revenue we received in 2007 was made up of 56% mineral values, in 2008 that number jumped to 64%. We have not gotten the completed numbers for 2009, but they will likely be similar. The dollar figures for this are 14, 500,000 in 2007 and 22,277,000 in 2008 in property values from mineral.

On the surface the benefit from this industry seems huge. We are a small town and they double our value. But I also compare this to the drug “heroin”, due to seeing the other towns which have gotten addicted to the drug and when the drug goes away, (when they price of natural gas goes down 75% as it has), they find themselves in a financial crisis. Also, most people do not take into account how much it costs to have this activity going on. I can only explain what goes on in DISH, TX, but will attempt to explain the drugs side affects.

First and foremost this exploration destroys roads, which are very expensive to maintain and replace. None of the existing roads were designed to withstand the constant pounding from an 80,000 pound waste-water truck. Nor were they designed to handle the larger equipment that is used to drill and refracture the wells. To build roads to handle this traffic can cost millions of dollars.

If the municipality owns the roads, they can force the companies to sign a road use agreement, which forces them to pitch in and help the roads. Most of the cities in the area have agreements like this in place. If they do not, then they are foolish, and are likely costing their taxpayers a great deal of money by not forcing the companies to pay. However, the drilling companies are going to take whatever measures they can to keep from paying damages to the roads. The City of Argyle found out the hard way when they were sued by XTO over road work. (Breathing has included the Complaint filed by XTO against Argyle for interested readers:  xto sues argyle complaint)

Here in DISH many of the roads are not owned by the town. This is both good and bad; it is good because we don’t have to pay for the major upkeep of these roads. However, if we don’t own the road we don’t have much control either. For example, we have implemented a weight restriction on all of the roads that we do own, but we can not enforce this on roads that we do not own. Unfortunately, the county does not have the capability to force these companies to have road agreements and pay for what they destroy. Therefore, the replacement and repairs come from the general taxation, or bond elections, not directly from the gas companies. So as you might guess it is a juggling match for the counties to keep the roads drivable for the average vehicle.

One example of that is Eakin Cemetery Road, which goes through part of DISH, but is owned by the county. A pipeline was being installed in this area, and the equipment used in this process is massive. Please note that the pipelines must be included in the cost of this exploration, even though they contribute little to the towns or property owners, and take a lot in return. I will discuss how bad they hurt the towns later.

When this line went in the companies used Eakin Cemetery Road to access the route. They completely destroyed this road and virtually made in impassible for the average vehicle. You could literally see the grooves where the truck tires that hauled massive equipment went. The pavement was cracked and torn from this equipment and the pipeline companies did nothing to prevent or repair this. And though the county does work hard to keep the roads in reasonable shape, when something like this happens in takes a while to plan the repair; therefore, the citizens here were forced to drive on the impassible road for quite a while until repairs were made. (Breathing would also suggest interested riders take a drive up to Dimock, PA.  Despite Jack Danchak’s recent assurances in either The Sullivan County Democrat or The River Reporter,  I’ve been to “Dimick”  and seen a very different reality.  Carter Road was scored with grooves 8″ or more deep.)

There is another impact that can be recognized quickly, and that is the affect that the exploration has directly on surface values. I am sure that there are some who believe the propaganda and are fine with having a well or pipeline in their front yard. However, regardless of what you may have heard, they are the exception not rule, especially if you have a small population of mineral owners in your community. The average person will not purchase the property right next to a well site or compressor, providing they are made aware of it. Unfortunately, most of the mineral owners in this area have kept the minerals and moved on to someplace else. However, when they have tried to sell their property with wells and pipelines on them, it has not been successful.

Although you may see a boost in your tax rolls for the short term, you will pay in the long run with the drop in property values. For a small growing community like DISH it especially provides an obstacle for quality growth. There have been four large tracts of property for sale in DISH for several years with no real interest in purchasing the property. If you do manage to get some interest in the property, it will likely be something like a pipeyard or something else that continues to devalue the surrounding property. So getting quality growth in an area that has a large amount of exploration proves to be a large hurdle if not impossible.

The above paragraph dealt with the exploration of the mineral, now we must consider the pipelines, and appurtenances to these pipelines, such as compressors or metering stations. These facilities have dealt us a very harsh blow without giving much in return. This is highlighted by a previous illustration of the pipeyard. The gentleman who unfortunately lives next door to this compressor site sold off a piece of property to a developer who built 18 homes that average around $200,000 each. However, after the compressors were there, he has not been able to give his property away. He was only able to lease some of it to a company that stores pipe. That is the best he can do now, and that in itself is very low quality growth and makes the area even less desirable.

Another illustration that has been used by me before is the gentleman who has had 63 acres for sale now for several years. He purchased the property as an investment, and now has three pipelines and an above ground valve. He can not give this property away. As he reaches retirement age his retirement has been stolen from him. This is no different than Enron or any other scandal, only it has been made legal thievery. There are two other pieces of property that have been for sale for several years, one of which is a large parcel of about 70 acres and the other is about 10 acres.

The above examples are heart wrenching when you look at how much it has cost the property owners, and only one of the above mentioned owners has any substantial mineral interest. Therefore, they others are merely victims of circumstance. However, as this gets to the point of whether this all is really worth it, I believe that if all of these property were sold and developed it would add somewhere around $20,000,000 in property values, which is more than the average in mineral values over the last few years. I also believe this is a very conservative estimation, it could be more.

So would you rather have homes than minerals? Homes in theory will increase in value over the long term while minerals will drop. Although, this has not been case the last couple of years, in the long term this has held true. Also, natural gas is a commodity, and its prices are much more volatile than housing. For example in the last couple of years the lowest price of natural gas is about 25% of the highest; therefore, you have seen a 75% drop in prices in a little over a year.

In DISH we have focused on overcoming the boom and trying to get quality development. We have worked with a number of developers to annex their property into the city. All three of the major annexations we have had since I became mayor, have been solely to protect them from the development of the minerals and total destruction of the surface values that accompany it. This is not saying that we do not allow drilling; we just force the companies to do it responsibly. We have a pad site that is right in the middle of one of these subdivisions and it really does not look that bad. It is lined with an eight foot concrete fence and most of the stuff inside including the tanks is not visible beyond the fence. However, the companies will only do this when they are forced too, they will not volunteer it.

So how about all those mineral owners who have gotten filthy rich? Here in DISH there have been some folks who have made a great deal of money on the minerals. However, most of them had lived here their while life, and had property handed down over the generations, otherwise they only have a small portion of the mineral rights. Therefore, there are only a few that are still alive that have a major portion of the mineral rights, and as previously stated most of them have moved away to someplace that they do not have to deal with the mess that is left behind.

This area was the beginning of the Barnett Shale, if I am not mistaken the first gas producing well in the Barnett Shale, was within 20 miles of DISH. Therefore, the minerals were purchased several years ago, and the leases were quite low in comparison to the massive leases signed last summer. The lease here is somewhere around 16% royalties with anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500 per acre, not the 25% and $25,000 per acre that have been publicized.

So what does the 16% royalty get you? From what I understand, for someone who owns four acres and has a quarter of the mineral rights, they average less than a $100 a month. Therefore, if you have one acre with 100% of the minerals you would get something similar. Therefore, unless you have a massive amount of land with 100% of the minerals, you are not going to get much money. If you are part of the lease, you must also consider the truck traffic, odor, noise, and you just might be fortunate enough to have a high pressure gas pipeline run through your front yard. All of these things accompany the hundred bucks a month. I do not have any mineral rights, if anyone has another illustration please add it to this posting.

So to the point of, is the juice worth the squeeze? From my perspective as a small town mayor and a property owner, I say no! Not in the manner in which it is being done in Texas. I think that with minor regulation it could both provide the natural resources that we need as well as not totally destroying the surface values and destroying the growth of these areas. For example, there is no process in Texas for the laying or routing of pipelines. The pipeline companies can literally put them anywhere they want without concern for surface owners and other natural resources. Municipalities do have some limited control over the placement of the wells, but not the pipelines.

The items that were discussed were only the things that are easily recognized. I am still learning the affects on air and water quality and to explore the possible health of affects of this exploration. Although I have recently learned that the companies with the compressor site have learned a loophole that allows them to virtually go without regulation in regards to the air emissions they produce. I will share more on this subject as I figure out the specifics. I have the documents; I just have not digested everything yet.

This also does not include the tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees it takes to offer the citizens some minor protection from these companies. Nor does it take into account the hundreds of hours of my time spent researching and campaigning for more regulation for no pay. So you must ask yourself; is the juice is worth the squeeze? I can support any statement that was made in this posting; therefore, if you have more specific questions, please let me know and I will clarify it for you. To those of you who have visited DISH, I doubt you have any questions in regards to the impact the Barnett Shale has had on us.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on April 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Gas Drilling, Conflict of Interests and Lobbying


Since publishing  Breathing’s March 20, 2010 coverage of  the Town of Delaware’s  Board meeting,  I’ve been fielding questions about local public officials’ potential conflicts of interests.  Essentially,  residents on both sides of the River are worried that some local public officials are either blocking or supporting local zoning changes and/or Board resolutions because those officials  have leased,  or are considering leasing,  their own gas mineral rights.

Residents and taxpayers who have raised the issue of conflicts of interest believe they are being  disenfranchised by representatives who are supporting or opposing  public policy for the benefit of themselves and drilling interests rather than in protection of  the public’s health and welfare.

As a result, I’ve asked two attorneys whether or not New York State’s  county, town, zoning and planning board members who have leased or are considering leasing their gas mineral rights should recuse themselves from not only voting on drilling issues but from participating in their Boards’ discussions of  gas drilling  issues.  In response, both attorneys  strongly recommended that  the public should attend those local board meetings and ask each board member, on the record, to clarify the leased  status of their and their family’s  real property holdings.

******************************

In an  April 2, 2008 press release,  the Franklin County, NY District Attorney made an announcement which may apply to our local  public officials who have signed gas leases:

“Over the past three months the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office has been examining allegations of certain improprieties including self-dealing, conflicts of interest and violations of statutes on the part of various local elected officials in Franklin County.

The recently disclosed unethical conduct by our state’s highest elected official has heightened the need for a closer review of all available ethical safeguards in order to reestablish and maintain the Public’s confidence in our elected officials.

This week, copies of General Municipal Law, Chapter 24, Article 18, Section 805-a and 806, are being sent to all Town, Village, School District and other regulatory boards in Franklin County in an effort to fully apprise elected officials of the prohibited conflicts of interest of Municipal Officers and their employees. Each governing body is also being urged to adopt and/or update their respective Code of Ethics and to consider working with the Franklin County Legislature to adopt a standard code throughout the County.

Our investigation has revealed several contracts, easements, lease option agreements, cooperation memoranda and other types of documents which disclose relationships existing between elected officials and certain third parties in Franklin County (as well as other elected officials in other Counties) which, when allegedly coupled with certain decision making and board action, may be in violation of General Municipal Law (GML) 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d). If such violations have occurred, these public officials may also be in violation of Penal Law Section 195.00, Official Misconduct and/or Penal Law Section 200, (Bribery Involving Public Servants and related offenses). (Bold added for emphasis.)

We are presently urging all elected officials to examine any and all employment relationships, contracts, contractual arraignments, agreements, leases, easements, payments, agreements for future services, fees, compensation, financial arraignments and other related matters which would fall under the prohibitions of GML 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d) and to consider as required by law, full disclosure to the public and recusal from voting or participation in legislative decisions in any events where a public official has or may have a financial interest. (1992 N.Y. Op. (Inf.) Att’y Gen. 31) (Bold added for emphasis.)

Through these proactive steps and full compliance with the law, we can attempt to restore and maintain the public’s confidence in our elected officials.  The New York State Attorney General’s Office, in the informal opinion cited above specifically stated, “even the appearance of impropriety must be avoided in order to maintain public confidence in government.”

***********************

According to New York State’s  Commission on Public Integrity:  “Lobbying” or “Lobbying activities” on the local level are defined as any attempt to influence the passage or defeat of any local law, ordinance, resolution or regulation by any municipality or subdivision thereof or adoption or rejection of any rule, regulation, or resolution having the force and effect of local law, ordinance, resolution or regulation or any rate making proceeding by any municipality or subdivision thereof.”

Breathing Note:  Commonsense dictates that if a member —  or the family of a member  —  of one of our local county, town, zoning and/or planning boards has leased mineral rights to a drilling company, that member will benefit from either “the passage or defeat of any local law, ordinance, resolution…”  which also  benefits gas drilling interests.  Further, commonsense dictates that a member who has leased his or her property to gas drilling interests and then supports or opposes local policy for the benefit of gas drilling interests  may be, effectively or apparently,  functioning as a lobbyist for those drilling interests rather than as an advocate for  the public’s interest.

Sections 805-a and 806 of New York State’s General Municipal Law are the most usually-cited statutes governing official conflicts of interest. (Section 806 explains the parameters of local codes of ethics and can be read in full here.)

Section 805-a reads:

  • 1. No municipal officer or employee shall:
  • a. directly or indirectly, solicit any gift, or accept or receive any gift having a value of seventy-five dollars or more, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment,  hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him, or could reasonably be expected to influence him, in the performance of his official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his part;
  • b. disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties or use such information to further his personal interests;
  • c. receive, or enter into any agreement, express or implied, for compensation for services to be rendered in relation to any matter before any municipal agency of which he is an officer, member or employee or of any municipal agency over which he has jurisdiction or to which he has the power to appoint any member, officer or employee; or
  • d. receive, or enter into any agreement, express or implied, for compensation for services to be rendered in relation to any matter before any agency of his municipality, whereby his compensation is to be dependent or contingent upon any action by such agency with respect to such matter, provided that this paragraph shall not prohibit the fixing at any time of fees based upon the reasonable value of the services rendered.
  • 2. In addition to any penalty contained in any other provision of law, any person who shall knowingly and intentionally violate this section may be fined, suspended or removed from office or employment in the manner provided by law.

Over the years, Attorney Generals in New York State  have issued opinions which may be salient to local concerns that public officials with gas drilling conflicts are not  recusing themselves  from either voting or  discussing drilling  issues that come before them.  Several of those Attorney General Opinions are included below:

  • In Opinion 2002-9  re  Conflict of Interests :

“…if a member of a village’s Board of Trustees, who owns property within the Business Improvement District of the village, has a substantial direct personal interest in the outcome of the Board of Trustees’ vote on the Business Improvement District’s annual budget, recusal from participating in the Board of Trustees’  deliberations and voting on the Business Improvement District’s annual budget is the appropriate course of action.”

“As a general matter, recusal  would be required if the facts and circumstances suggest that the subject trustee has a substantial, personal interest in the outcome of the BID budget vote.  Even the appearance of such an interest would require recusal, in order to maintain public confidence in  government.” (Breathing Note:  If a public official’s property has been leased and will be affected by proposed legislation or changes in legislation, would the same recusal requirement exist?)  (Bold added for emphasis.)

  • In Opinion 96-17  re:  Section 806:

“Public officers have responsibility to exercise their official duties solely in the public interest.  1985 Op Atty Gen (Inf) 101.  They should avoid circumstances which compromise their ability to make impartial judgments and must avoid the appearance of impropriety in order to maintain public confidence in government.”

  • In Opinion 96-27  re:  Section 806:

“Public officials should not, however, accept positions or become involved in outside activities which conflict with their official duties.  Every local government is required to promulgate a code of ethics providing standards for officers and employees with respect to disclosure of interest in legislation before the local governing body, holding of investments in conflict with official duties….”

  • In Opinion 99-42  re Section 806:

“A member of a board of assessment review who owns property before the board for review is obligated to recuse himself from participating in board proceedings with respect to that property to preserve the validity of action taken by the board and maintain public confidence in the integrity of government.”  (Breathing Note:  If a public official’s property has been leased and will be affected by proposed legislation or changes in legislation, would the same recusal requirement exist?)

  • In Opinion 95-2  re:  members with conflict of interests recusing  themselves from all Board deliberations “with respect to that matter or applications”:

“We have found that members of local bodies, including planning boards, with conflicts of interests in a particular application or matter before the body, should recuse themselves from taking any actions with respect to that matter or application.  Op Atty Gen (Inf) No. 9-38; 1988 Op Atty Gen (Inf) 12, 124; 1988 Op Atty Gen (Inf) 115, 117.  We have stated that members with conflicts of interests must recuse themselves from participating in any deliberations or votes concerning the application creating the conflict. Op Atty Gen (Inf)  No. 90-38.   The board member’s participation in deliberations has the potential to influence other board members who will exercise a vote with respect to the matter in question.  Further, we believe that a board member with a conflict of interests should not sit with his or her fellow board members during the deliberations and action regarding the matter.   The mere presence of the board member holds the potential of influencing  fellow board members and additionally, having declared a conflict of interests, there would reasonably be an appearance of impropriety in the eyes of the public should the member sit on the board.”

“Thus, it is our view that once a board member has declared that he or she has a conflict of interests  in a particular matter before the board, that the board member should recuse him or herself from any deliberations or voting with respect to that matter by absenting himself from the body during the time that the matter is before it.”

  • In Opinion 97-5:

“A member of the city council…if the interests of his or her employer are affected by matters before the council, recusal is that appropriate course of action.”  (Breathing Note:  If a member’s income is impacted by  his Board’s action, how can it matter whether that income derives from an employer or a gas lease?)

****************************

As always,  Breathing articles are easily copied and pasted.  It’s good to get the research credit but it’s even more important that the work be used by concerned people for good  purpose.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

DRBC Hearing On Stone Energy Draws Nearly Unanimous Opposition


I apologize for the delay in posting these notes on the February 24, 2010   Delaware River Basin Commission’s  (DRBC)  Public Hearing  at which two applications by Stone Energy were considered.  (Like most of you, we’ve been trying to find our driveway and a couple of  buried vehicles.)  For a better understanding of the comments reported here,  please  View Draft Dockets D-2009-013-1and D-2009-018-1.


All but five  speakers who addressed  Stone Energy’s  applications opposed  them.  Virtually all those opponents asked the Commission to impose a moratorium on gas drilling until the cumulative impacts of  the industry’s activities could be studied.

Small business owners testified that they were hesitant to build or expand enterprises in the Delaware River Basin for fear of  the adverse economic impacts of drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

Susan Blenkensap  stated,   “My neighbor is  a  lifelong  resident. She had  a real estate agency  for   30 years.  She closed her doors because she couldn’t, in conscience,  sell property  to   people   when the land is under threat of drilling.”

Ryan Wood-Beauchamp  was concerned about property values.  “What if we can’t sell our homes?  And what about the  FHA [Federal Housing Administration]?”  (It was an allusion to FHA rules which state,   “No existing home may be located closer than  300 feet from an active or planned drilling site.  If an operating well is located in a single family subdivision, no new or proposed house may be built within 75 feet of the operating well.”)

Jessica Corrigan owns an outdoor experience business.   “Our house burnt down,” she said.   “We don’t know what to do.   Should we rebuild  under this threat?

One landowner who has joined the Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association  — an organization  that supports drilling and  claims to represent  80,000 leased acres — says he has not leased and lies awake at night hoping that drilling does not come to his area.

Al Benner is  contemplating developing an organic  farm but he’s “hesitant to do it. People aren’t thinking about the long term impact on our quality of  life.  We have  hundreds of summer camps.     That revenue will be wiped out  if reports surface about  benzene and toluene  in the  water up here. Drilling  could decimate this region for generations.”

Like many other speakers, Greg Schwartz, an organic vegetable farmer in the Upper Basin insisted the Commission  quantify  all  the  potential  drilling operations  in  the Basin.  “If  you don’t make a decision about the cumulative impacts,  you will abrogate your legal   responsibility  to the  Basin and that would be actionable.  I am an organic vegetable farmer.   I   rely on  biologically healthy soil.  I’m afraid  drilling will destroy  my business.  I urge  you to resist  today’s political pressure.”   (Breathing has presented information on  the  growth of organic farms nationally and in New York State.)

Bernard Handler  addressed Stone Energy’s documented  illegal activities in the Basin,  “Stone Energy has already violated the rules of the DRBC by drilling in The Basin without permission.  They were also non-responsive to the Commission’s requests to respond, ignoring letters, etc.  Now they come with hat in hand and we are  supposed to believe they are the good guys.  They have already set up a drill pad,  drilled 8350 feet,  transported toxic water out of  The Basin and buried drill cuttings underground without following the DRBC’s guidelines.”

A DRBC press release on 6/9/08 “announced that [the DRBC]  has informed Stone Energy Corporation that it will need to apply for and receive approval from the Commission before it can extract natural gas in Wayne County, Pennsylvania…”

The letter was an official statement from the DRBC that Stone Energy  had violated DRBC regulations by commencing drilling without  obtaining DRBC’s  approval.

DRBC’s own Docket No. D-D-2009-18-1 says  that Stone Energy drilled   the vertical well  on a date uncertain “between  May 9, 2008 and June 2, 2008.”   Because he DRBC’s knowledge of many of the well’s specifications is not first-hand, the Commission has been forced to rely  on  Stone Energy’s application which “indicates it  was constructed in accordance with PADEP  [Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection] Chapter  78 Subchapter D regulations.”  There is nothing in the Docket describing the diligence or  scope of  PADEP’s oversight of Stone Energy’s construction of the well,  the company’s  subsequent withdrawal and transport of   toxic water,  nor its burying of its drill cuttings.

Because drill cuttings are recognized as a source of toxins, The Pennsylvania Legal Code describes the  required  disposal procedure.

It is also important to note that as a matter of law,  the DRBC’s  rules supersede Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.

According to the Docket,  on  June 6, 2008,  “the DRBC  requested that an Application for  the M1 Well Site be submitted to the Commission for review and approval.”

Four months later (December 2008) after  “Stone drilled and cased the M1 well without Commission approval,   a settlement agreement between Stone and the Commission required Stone to submit an application to the DRBC for  review and approval of the well and to  pay a fine as specified in the settlement agreement.”  According to The Upper Delaware Council’s meeting minutes from March 5, 2009,  Stone Energy paid a fine of $70,000. The well was capped before gas was extracted.  (See faulty well casings cited in Ohio house explosion.)

Finally, two months later (February 13, 2009)  “Stone submitted an application to the Commission for approval of the  existing M1 Well”  and this past Wednesday,  Mr. Handler’s outrage that the DRBC would consider granting two applications by Stone Energy was echoed over and over again by  Hearing attendees.  “After all,  how can the DRBC even consider approving  an application from a corporation which has already treated the Commission, its rules, The Basin and its environmental health with such disdain.  To even hold a hearing on the application makes the DRBC complicit in  rendering itself  ethically and, perhaps, legally irrelevant,”  said one speaker.

One man who lives within a few miles of the existing well  was overcome by emotion and was unable to complete his statement which began,   “It’s upsetting to me  how   our community’s being divided,  neighbors against neighbors.    It’s about the companies being  given leeway to run roughshod  over everybody.    I’m  not angry at my neighbors for leasing  their land. We’re all having a  tough time.  But if  you’re going to lease the land, at least accept there’s some dangers here.  I see people shaking their  heads  about proven   damage that’s happened.  At least  accept that if you lease  you’re  taking a  risk.  I’m pissed.  Taxpayers fund these corporations.”

Marian Schweighofer, founder of the Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association and an  advocate of gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing,  supported approval of  Stone Energy’s applications.    Holding up a map of Wayne County,  she announced that her membership represents 80,000 leased acres.   She addressed  the issue of  “inverse condemnation”  which prevents  landholders from leasing their  mineral rights but does not provide them with compensation for the resultant loss of revenues and reduction in the value of their properties.   In fact, her  sentiments  have been echoed  by New York State Senator John Bonacic,  in response to New York City’s demand for a moratorium on drilling in the New York City Watershed, “Let them buy the development rights,” he says. “For those landowners who want to sell their gas rights, let the City pay the same market rate to keep the land undeveloped. We buy agricultural development rights for tracts of land we want to preserve. Let those who oppose the lawful exploration and extraction of gas in the Catskills (do the same).”

Opponents of  compensation believe Bonacic’s idea  is an open-ended scheme with a wide range of unintended consequences. For instance,  Cliff Westfall asks in a reply to Ms. Schweighofer, “What if I decided to burn down the woods on my land, claiming it was the cheapest way to clear a field, with no concern for preventing its spread to my neighbor’s house?  Of course the government could regulate that. The bottom line is this: the government may prevent you from doing things on your property when those actions would harm public welfare.”

Fracturing fluids injected underground may travel as much as 6,000 feet.  Their  direction is neither predictable nor controllable.

Although the Fifth Amendment  of the Constitution ensures against ” private property [being]  taken for public use, without just compensation,”  courts have generally supported the  common good over the pecuniary benefit of a few.  In  Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City,  The U.S. Supreme Court held, among other things, that  “In a wide variety of contexts, the government may execute laws or programs that adversely affect recognized economic values without its action constituting a ‘taking,’ and, in instances such as zoning laws where a state tribunal has reasonably concluded that ‘the health, safety, morals, or general welfare’ would be promoted by prohibiting particular contemplated uses of land, this Court has upheld land use regulations that destroyed or adversely affected real property interests.”  *
Sandra Folzer owns a 50 acre farm in  Tioga County and   was offered  250 thousand dollars to sign  a lease.  She refused.  “Water  is more important than gas.  I can’t drink  gas.   My neighbor  is  pushing me to sign  but fracking is not  tried  and true.  Fracking   the  shale has only been happening  since 2005.  New Mexico  has to tank in all its own water.  Aquifers are being depleted in Florida.   Mexico City is sinking because too much water is being taken from its aquifers.  Israel  buys its water from Turkey.    Remember  the Alamo?  It’s  dried up.”
One speaker said,  “Everyone talks about their rights.  They don’t talk about their responsibilities, though.”

A bus load of  residents  traveled  three hours to comment at the hearing and were adamant that the DRBC schedule additional hearings   in the Lower Delaware River Basin. “Philadelphia gets all its water from The Basin,”  was a common refrain.

Tanyette Colon  said she is a mother first and foremost.  “Norway  and  Italy are in  Pennsylvania  subsidizing  fracking efforts  but they won’t allow  it  in their own countries.  If this application is granted,  it  will  send a message to  gas companies  that it’s okay to  illegally   drill wells  because they’ll  get a slap on the hand  but ultimately get their way.   Residents  of Pennsylvania  don’t deserve it.”

Several speakers addressed  the environmental impacts of Stone Energy’s applications  on The Lackawaxen River  which  was named  “Pennsylvania’s River of the Year” by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  Joe Zenes carried a picture of the proposed withdrawal site and, while waiting for the Hearing to begin,  worried what Stone Energy’s proposed minimum  5.9  cubic foot per second (cfs)  stream flow  would do to the stream.  “It’ll disappear,”  he grunted.  “It’ll be a trickle.”

David Jones who owns and operates Kittatinny Canoes,  supported Stone Energy’s  plans and suggested allowing  greater  withdrawals when the Lackawaxen is running higher. “Store it when there’s more volume.  This project is the start of something.  The world, the  country, our   area  needs this   industy.   This is our future.  It will save our area.  It’ll protect it from development.   Let’s not forget about  private property.  It’s  our right to harvest it.     Lengthy studies are a delay tactic.    Let’s  study  every single industry that takes  water from the basin.  Why just gas drilling?  I  depend on this water for my livelihood.  New York City  wastes  100  million  gallons  of water   regularly.    This withdrawal  represents   an olympic size   swimming  pool.   Dockets are approved all the time.  This   is discrimination.”

Bruce Ferguson responded to Mr. Jones’ claims  that  lengthy studies are the reason for delays.  “The [gas]  industry  is slowing down the process.  Let   studies go forward  so we can   move forward.   The  [Fracturing and Awareness of Chemicals Act]   would   restore  protections we lost in 2005.  It’s a very modest piece of legislation and it’s being fought tooth  and nail  by an  industry that simultaneously claims   fracking is  perfectly safe.”

*********

*Practically speaking and considering New York State’s 8.8% unemployment rate (10.4% in New York City) should taxpayers be  forced to underwrite landholder compensation for mineral rights  just as Congress launches  an investigation into  gas drilling practices  and their  potential harm to the environment?

(Inverse Condemnation is not a simple issue and Breathing would very much appreciate Ms. Schweighofer amplifying her point of view in an article  that will be published  in its entirety.  Likewise,   Mr. David Jones  and I spoke for a quarter hour or more during a break in the Hearing  and I’ve asked him to submit an article which I will publish as  written.  I think we would all benefit from their contributions to this forum. I would also like to express my appreciation to Mr. Jones for his attendance at The Light Up The Delaware River Party.  Most attendees were decidedly against drilling in The Basin and  he should be congratulated for joining us.  Kudos,  Mr. Jones!)

 
20 Comments

Posted by on February 25, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,383 other followers

%d bloggers like this: