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October 2, 2012

Landowners' group blasts Cuomo over drilling delay

By Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — COOPERSTOWN — Stung by the extension of the state’s review of hydrofracking rules, a landowners’ group sharply criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, accusing him of “ignoring the biggest opportunity we will see in our lifetimes.”

“Unfortunately, the governor has turned his back on the landowners in New York and simply doesn’t care that we are struggling to pay the highest real property taxes in the country.” the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York said in a statement.

The group was bemoaning the fact that the Cuomo administration is jettisoning what had been a Nov. 29 deadline to decide on drilling regulations and is poised to extend the rule-making process to a date that has not been specified.

The pro-drilling organization, which says it represents 77,000 landowners, said the decision would “restart the torturous public-comment period and waste even more taxpayer dollars.”

The first sign that the state rules governing fracking permits could be delayed came two weeks ago when state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens invited state Department of Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to oversee a review of the health impacts of horizontal shale gas drilling, should it be allowed. At that time, Martens rejected calls from environmentalists to have outside “independent” experts conduct the study, contending the state was best suited to protect its citizens.

Long-time Albany observer Alan Chartock, the chief exeuctive officer of WAMC public radio, told The Daily Star that he had expected Cuomo to slow down the rule-making for gas drilling.

Noting the administration has been deluged with some 80,000 public comments on the proposed rules — much of them believed to be in opposition — Chartock said: “Cuomo is a master politician. He holds his hands up in the air, sees which way the wind is blowing and does what it takes to avoid a crisis. This issue has become so salient for many people. Cuomo is too smart a politician to not understand the consequences of this thing.”

The new health study led by Shah is expected to dramatically shape the next move by the DEC. Its commissioner, Martens, and Shah are both Cuomo appointees.

“No final decision on the issuance of regulations will be made until the completion of Dr. Shah’s review,” said DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

A spokesman for Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, Jeff Bishop, said the senator had no comment on the rule-making extension other than that “he’s said from the beginning that the science should dictate what happens next.”

Seward’s challenger in the Nov. 6 general election, Howard Leib of Dryden, said, “My view is that fracking is a bad idea, and anything that slows down the process is a good thing. We cannot be too cautious because we can’t undo anything that we mess up.”

Adrian Kuzminski, moderator of the anti-drilling group Sustainable Otsego, said the Cuomo administration’s decision to begin the rule-making anew reflects thew growing clout of the movement against hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.

“We’re obviously pleased by this development,” he said. “It would suggest that the tide is turning in New York against fracking.”

The reaction from Joint Landowners Coalition was the group’s most biting assessment of Cuomo since DEC’s drilling rules were circulated for comment last year.

The group said the decision contradicts the message of such business-friendly Cuomo slogans as “New York Works for Business” and programs such as “Recharge New York.”

“The reality is that nothing is new or recharged in New York,” the landowners’ group said. “The DEC’s recent announcement simply demonstrates that New York continues to be closed for business as we drain the life out of upstate New York.”