Tag Archives: sullivan county

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to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)

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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?

 

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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.

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.)

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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

 

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.

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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.”

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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?)

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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.

Sullivan County Chair Asks Residents to Support Drilling Forums


The Sullivan County  Legislature unanimously banned  hydro-fracking on County property and “memorialized the  United States Senate and House of Representatives to amend appropriate federal laws to protect the environment and the public from risks associated with hydro-fracking.”

PUBLIC COMMENT:

(During the public comment period, all but one speaker addressed the  drilling items.)

To start, Alice Diehl said,  “There have been six  generations on Diehl farms.  Our children and grandchildren want to farm.  One  of my grandsons is buying equipment.  He has his herd started.  I feel compelled because of him to come here today and let you know how we feel about  our farming  future. Gas drilling is a really bad idea.  It might bring revenue but there are other ways.  Once our aquifers are breached, that’s the end.  We can’t farm with toxic  water  and we don’t want to move.  You people are responsible for the health and well-being of  our residents.”

John  Kavaller,  a local real estate agent and long-time businessperson in Sullivan County, described himself as  a reluctant speaker.  “You really are arbiters for the pubic good and you have a lot of things on  your  plate. Businesspeople  have  substantial interest in gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale and you  have to  consider  the possible benefits and the  cons.  I would echo a previous speaker:  we need you to hold public forums throughout Sullivan County where we can hear from our public officials, our emergency responders and they can hear from residents. That’s what  we’re about in this county.   I was part of the bureaucracy  in New York State.  I have some idea how things work.  The budget determines  what happens.   Albany determines the budget.   I believe the Department of Environmental Conservation [DEC]  wants to  properly handle  drilling and hydro-fracking, but  I have substantial  concerns that the DEC,  because of budget constraints,  will be able to handle  the situation. Once the  water’s contaminated,  we can’t get  it  back.”

Larysa Dyrszka, a member of Sullivan Area Citizens for Responsible Energy Development (SACRED)  strongly supported both resolutions. A retired  pediatrician, Dr. Dyrszka,  expressed profound concerns  about chemicals used in  hydraulic fracturing  as well as  contamination from  compressor  stations. (Compressors are part of the extraction and gas preparation process.)  She said, “Both will have a deleterious  affect on the health of our  community.  We need more  information and  better science.  The Federal  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just announced it  will conduct  a  comprehensive study to investigate  potential impacts of gas drilling on water quality and public  health.  In addition to the resolutions before you today, I’d ask you to  consider a moratorium in Sullivan County on hydro-fracking until  this EPA  study is completed.  I   also agree  that we need you to make sure more science and  information is  presented to the  public.  We will be more than happy to help you  set that up.”

Ayla Maloney, a local potter and proprietor of Honey Hill Pottery in the Town of Delaware, said,  “I’m asking you to consider a moratorium in Sullivan County and it should be open-ended.  Big corporations  have invested a lot of  money in drilling and the political process.  Our recreation, our scenery, our peace of mind…the entire landscape will be changed forever.  They want to put  10,000 wells in our area.  If that happens, it will turn  our area into a hideous wasteland.  I’m very upset.  I’m considering leaving and  I love it here.  I’m counting on you guys   to stand up for us.”

Victoria Lesser  recalled her early years in the Sullivan County area. “My childhood memories of this place are amazing. I  came back and  bought The North Branch Inn and restored it to its original 1860s  state.  I’ve been thinking  for days  what I want to say.  I  saw an  enormous  sign proclaiming,  ‘Business.  Pleasure.  Life,’ and another that called the Sullivan County Catskills, ‘Mountains of opportunities.’   The question now is,  ‘For whom?’   How can it be that everything I’ve invested would be considered worthless if drilling comes here. And  who are the people who are  thinking of   leasing their lands?   So many farmers.   The sad thing is we’ve allowed our farmers to struggle.  People who are spending $5 for a gallon of milk in  New York City   haven’t got a clue that our farmers are  trying to exist on  1970’s  milk prices.  As we  pledged allegiance to our flag, I thought of the public relations of gas drillers that drilling will improve our local economy.  What’s  really  going to happen to the economy of  Sullivan County?  They bring in their own  workers that stay by the well head. They won’t be eating french toast at my  inn that’s made with  brioche I get from another local business and serve with Diehl farm  maple syrup.  And what about the public relations about our national security?  Foreign companies are investing in the Marcellus Shale.”

Ms. Lesser began reading  from a Philadelphia Inquirer article she’d brought with her:  “A Japanese  company,  Mitsui,  is investing   $1.4 billion  in the Marcellus Shale. They’ve agreed to buy a 32.5 percent stake in the … natural  gas operations of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation…. We…anticipate drilling more than 4,500 wells over the coming year…. The U.S. will be a major gas market in years ahead….” Ms. Lesser  waved her sheet,  “Not only are they buying  our resources,  but so have [Norway’s] StatoilhydroBritain’s  BP and companies in Italy.  How can we sleep at night if we allow this to happen?  You have to make sure  we remain a mountain of opportunity  for people who actually live here and love this place.  Many people  who are  signing leases  don’t even live here.  One guy who recently leased lives in Port Jefferson or some place.  People making big money are living  in Japan and people vested here  won’t be able to leave because  our lives will be  worthless.”

After the measures passed,  a few Legislators responded to the public with comments of their own.

Leni Binder said, “We’ve been holding fora.  We’re not new to this.  New York  is a  home rule state.   We don’t have the  right to tell a town  not to  allow drilling in  a town if the state tells them they can.*  I urge you to go to the State and Federal levels.   All of us endorse a  study in this county.”

Legislator, Jodi Goodman reminded the audience of a forum that was held in Liberty, NY.  “Eight hundred people nearly filled it.  But we have to think, there’s  also the home owner who’s  for  drilling. Many farmers came forward who said you have no right to tell me how poor I must be — how much I must struggle.   It’s a  very difficult subject.  We have to control  trucks coming through our county and the  amount of hazardous  materials coming through.”

David Sager, who has been at most of the drilling meetings held in the County said,  “I  brought forward the  legislation to help struggling  farmers but people need to separate the arguments.  This is not about farming.  This is not about agriculture.  This is about industrialization and the environment.”

Chairman of the  Legislature,  Jonathan Rouis, reiterated a sentiment he expressed in his State of the County address,  “The Board of Legislators can and will be  the lead educator  on the issue.  The most important thing we can do is  to develop  these fora and make sure they’re well-attended.  If you’re interested in helping us do that,  stop by the Planning office and give your name.  Keep informed and help us  spread the word.”

(NB:  Anyone who believes Sullivan County residents should hear from and ask questions of our County Commissioners and emergency responders should call   845-794-3000 and ask for the Planning Department.  Leave your name and phone number so you can help the Legislature  create informational fora in your community.)

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*Despite Ms. Binder’s remarks, there’s some hope for advocates of  increased local controls  as a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision suggests. (Because the decision was reached by an Appellate court, it might carry weight as precedent in New York.):

  • According to the  Court’s ruling,  “Municipalities have a unique authority and responsibility in the regulatory framework which must be maintained; they ‘give consideration to the character of the municipality, the needs of the citizens and the suitabilities and special nature of particular parts of the municipality.’”   In the end,  the court’s  decision permits a local regulatory body to enact “traditional zoning regulations that identify which uses are permitted in different areas of the locality,  even if such regulations preclude oil and gas drilling in certain zones….”    However,  the decision also restricted the scope of  local jurisdiction,  “We do not, for instance, suggest that the municipality could permit drilling in a particular district but then make that permission subject to conditions addressed to features of well operations regulated by the [Pennsylvania Oil and Gas] Act.”  (Bold added for emphasis.)  Essentially, when it comes to actual drilling practices and operations,  the  Court  upheld that Pennsylvania State law will carry more force than local regulations.
  • In response to the ruling,  Nockamixon Township has  amended old zoning ordinances in order to restrict  gas and drilling operations  to “light industrial and quarry zones.”   Also,  the Town has strictly enforced  weight limits on all its bridges.

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In Sullivan, as well as in other New York State towns and counties, legislators should  harness the public’s growing outrage that local control of community resources is being stymied by Albany and Washington.

The New York State Associations of Towns and Counties are lobbying tools that can be used coherently and concertedly  against what many view as Albany’s “over-reaching.”

For more information about protecting localities, please download a copy of  “Legal and Practical Guide to Protecting Your Citizens and the Environment in the Face of Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling”  prepared by Kimberlea Rea Shaw at the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Natural Gas Development Resource Center.   (The Center has  numerous other  resources  and suggestions  such as water testing which many believe should be  paid for  by gas extraction companies before drilling begins.)

Sullivan County Considers Drilling Resolutions. Barth Letter Postscript


Kudos to  the Sullivan County Legislature’s  Public Works Committee  for bringing drilling  before the  full  Board of Legislators!  The members of the Committee are David Sager (Chair),  Elwin Wood, Jonathan Rouis, Jodi Goodman, Leni Binder, Alan Sorensen and Frank Armstrong.

The Committee has  given us an opportunity to congratulate its members and to  ask  the County Board to:

  • hold public fora with  commissioners  and emergency responders for the benefit of  county residents;
  • anything else you believe  will help protect Sullivan County residents as we move forward.

If you wish to speak,  it’s suggested you get there  by 1:30.    Meeting begins at 2:00 PM

The Sullivan County Democrat’s full story on the  Committee’s resolutions can be read here and is excerpted below:

MONTICELLO — Legislators on the Public Works Committee unanimously agreed Thursday to ban gas drilling involving hydrofracking on all county-owned properties.
Citing environmental, water quality, traffic and property impact concerns, the resolution says no such drilling will be allowed “until such time as the potential long-term, cumulative and indirect environmental and public health impacts are adequately addressed and appropriate mitigation measures are identified.”
An accompanying resolution was also approved on Thursday, urging Congress to “amend pertinent federal laws to adequately safeguard the environment and the public from any environmental and health risks associated with hydrofracking.”
Both resolutions will go before the full Legislature this Thursday for official approval. The meeting is open to the public and will be held at 2 p.m. at the Government Center in Monticello.

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It was brought to my attention that the link to The River Reporter’s letters section which I included in my Hodgepodge :  Sullivan County Leases;  David Jones article is not working.

In a follow-up to  the “Hodgepodge” article,  Mr. James Barth, who authored  the letter concerning Mr. David Jones’ land transactions, wrote a comment at Breathing which provides background for the publication of his letter.

Those interested in reading his letter for a fuller understanding can find it here or  here.

Breathing recommends that regular readers of this column subscribe to the comment section’s  RSS feed in order to participate in its  “community forum” potential.  For instance,  one resident (“Deemer”)  has suggested local action in a comment this morning and is looking for feedback and possible support.