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November 2, 2013

Election choices: what are they, really?

By Mike Zagata Local Commentary
The Daily Star

---- — It’s going to be an interesting election, and one that determines our future for a long time. The governor is asking us to legalize casinos in upstate New York. Sustainable Otsego is asking us to support hops and breweries as our future. Most every candidate is promising to oppose fracking.

What is the logic to these requests for our vote and promises if we support their requests? Well, we know the risks associated with alcohol and gambling. Mothers Against Drunk Driving runs ads asking us to support their efforts to reduce accidents caused by DUI and DWI.

We know that both gambling and alcohol can be addictive, and that various crimes like theft and abuse are tied to those addictions. Please don’t read into this that I’m against either alcohol or gambling. My father owned a restaurant for many years. What I am attempting to do is get those of us who are about to vote to actually think through what those votes will mean to this area.

Those opposed to fracking are asking us to be alarmed about the potential risk for bad impacts on our environment. They tell us that our water and air will be polluted forever and that our cows will die in the pasture. Yet we look to the south in Pennsylvania, where several thousand wells have been drilled that are producing billions of cubic feet of natural gas, and we don’t see those things happening. The Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have worked with the energy industry to develop improved practices that further reduce risk.

The claims that one can light the drinking water in Dimock, Pa., on fire turned out to be true – but that was true before the drilling started. I’m told one can do the same thing in a few homes in Maryland, N.Y., and there hasn’t been any drilling. Could it be that we’re more afraid of the potential than we are of the known?

It’s interesting to note that both casinos and brewing need cheap, clean-burning, reliable energy, and both withdraw and discharge large volumes of water.

Every day we’re bombarded with information from people with an opinion, an agenda, or both. If we don’t take the time to seek out the real truth, then we deserve what we get. If that means our future is tied to casinos and breweries and we voted to have it that way, then so be it. However, it would seem logical that we would take the time to find out if that’s the best choice.

We know that gas drilling will bring well-paying jobs because that has happened everywhere that has allowed drilling for gas. We know that we could garner the same economic benefits that Pennsylvania has received — ad-valorem taxes that remain in the local jurisdiction to be spent on schools and infrastructure, and impact fees that are collected in advance to pay for any problems that could arise and can be spent by the community for other things once the threat has passed.

The purpose of this letter isn’t to advocate for fracking. We need to wait until the Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health have done their jobs. However, if they give the governor the green light, we will need elected officials able to perform their most important and legally mandated function — insuring the economic well-being of their jurisdiction.

MIKE ZAGATA is a former state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, Ruffed Grouse Society president and oil company executive.