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August 23, 2013

Local fracking foes protest to Obama

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Fly Creek resident Julie Huntsman and real estate agent Kelly Branigan of Middlefield were hoping President Barack Obama would take note Thursday night that many upstate New Yorkers oppose hydrofracking as they stood in the rain with some 200 other demonstrators outside a Syracuse school.

“We want him to think about it, because he’s got it wrong on fracking,” Huntsman, who is also an Otsego Town Board member, said into her mobile phone after taking a call from The Daily Star. “He’s a very smart president, but all he knows is what his advisers are telling him, and they’re listening to the gas industry.”

According to press-pool feeds released to the media by the White House, Obama stopped at a Rochester outdoor cafe on his way to Syracuse and noted First Lady Michelle Obama was not traveling with him because she was caring for the family’s new puppy, a Portuguese Water Dog named Sunny.

Huntsman, a veterinarian, said if Obama looked into the risks of shale gas drilling, he’d learn that pets and farm animals have suffered injuries as a result of coming into contact with contaminants from fracking. She said to protect both animals and humans, Obama must close the “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts the gas industry from stringent regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Outside the Syracuse school, the protesters only got a glimpse off the bus carrying Obama to the destination for his speech on education, although Huntsman said some demonstrators indicated he waved to them as the vehicle wheezed past them.

Following a speech at the University at Buffalo and the stop at Magnolia’s Deli and Cafe in Rochester, Obama pulled into the Women’s Rights National Park in Seneca Falls, the site of a landmark suffragette convention in 1848. Then the motorcade headed to the Syracuse school, where White House staffers and the traveling press corps were greeted with freshly delivered meals from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, one of the Salt City’s most famous eateries.

At the Syracuse school, Obama argued that getting a college education is more important than ever, while the costs of financing higher education have become more burdensome on American families.

He said he was directing his administration to come up with a new ratings system for colleges that reward those whose students have strong career potential when they graduate and complete their education with “manageable debt.”

“Right now all these ranking systems, they rank you higher if you charge more and you let in fewer students,” he said, according to a transcript released by the White House. “But you should have a better sense of who’s actually graduating students and giving you a good deal.”

At 12:45 p.m. today, Obama is scheduled to speak at Binghamton University to an audience limited to students, faculty and staff. Hundreds of protesters are expected, and officials said those headed to the event should expect significant traffic delays. The scheduled topic will once again be college affordability.

While the public itinerary of the presidential travels did not include any stops in Chenango, Delaware, Otsego or Schoharie counties, Assemblyman Pete Lopez, R-Schoharie, said he welcomes Obama’s swing through upstate New York. He noted he hopes the trip will help the federal government realize that the region is in need of stronger support of programs aimed at “jump-starting the upstate economy.”

“My experience tells me that spending time with people in the places where they live and where they work is critical to getting the job done, and at some point we’re bound to benefit from it,” Lopez said.

As for Obama’s stump speeches on tuning up the higher education system so students leave with less debt, Lopez said he hoped there would be more dialogue on ways to have those educations translate into good-paying jobs so the graduates will be able to pay off their loans more rapidly.

Veteran Republic consultant Anthony Casale of Cooperstown said of the Obama visit: “It’s wonderful that he’s coming to the upstate New York, but I just hope he focuses on the real issues, which are jobs and the economy.”

Casale also questioned the timing of the trip, noting it coincided with the opening of the State Fair in Syracuse, with the motorcade “inconveniencing” Thruway motorists between Buffalo and Syracuse.

Otsego County Democratic Chairman Richard Abbate said he was delighted that Obama was spending part of the summer in upstate New York, noting his only regret is that he isn’t coming to Otsego County. “Maybe next time around we’ll see him.”

Some of the local anti-fracking protestors who urged Obama in Syracuse to drop his support for gas drilling — including Huntsman and Branigan — said they will be back at it today in Binghamton.

Members of the Norwich Tea Party, upset by the president’s policies on health care among other issues, said they also plan to protest outside the Binghamton event.