Governor Cuomo: Fracking Decision 'By the End of the Year'
The review by the state Department of Health on the health impacts of fracking is due to be completed and delivered Dec. 31. Governor Andrew Cuomo had said he would base his decision on that report, and it was widely believed that he would make his announcement early next year. Anti-fracking activists were preparing to rally at his Jan. 7 State of the State address in Albany. But yesterday in an interview on local radio show The Capitol Pressroom, Cuomo said that his decision will come by the end of the year.
"By the end of the year we should have positions on both [the other issue is casino licenses] that are clear and we’ll start the new year with some major decisions under our belt, so to speak,” he said.
"Just last week, scientists and health professionals from around the state released reports finding that the vast majority of independent, peer-reviewed studies conclude that fracking is bad for people's health, the water we drink and the air we breathe," said John Armstrong of Frack Action. "New Yorkers expect Governor Cuomo to protect our public health and safety from this toxic industry."
Fracking has been banned in New York since 2008. But the natural gas industry has hungrily eyed the state's Southern Tier west of the Catskills, which adjoins gas-rich Pennsylvania where fracking is booming, So far, Cuomo has stalled on a decision on whether to lift the ban as opposition has grown, especially in the Southern Tier which would bear the brunt of its impacts. A poll this past summer showed that voters in the region oppose fracking 51 percent to 35 percent, and area residents have mounted regular rallies outside the governor's public events.
“An overwhelming number of studies show the considerable risks fracking will pose to our health, our environment and our natural resources—especially for those of us who live in Southern Tier,” said Scott Lauffer, chair of the Sierra Club Susquehanna Group. “If Governor Cuomo is seriously committed to protecting our health and keeping New Yorkers safe, he will ban fracking and make sure that not one well is built within our borders.”
Last month, a coalition of environmental groups launched the Not One Well campaign, which held an emergency rally Sunday in Binghamton. About 60 people attended to reintroduce the Pledge to Resist Fracking in New York State, already signed by thousands of New Yorkers, and to listen to speakers like Southern Tier resident Colleen Boland who warned, "When the science is ignored, when our political leaders fail to protect us and our right to clean water and instead do the bidding of the gas industry, people rise up."
Referencing the protests at the Crestwood methane gas storage facility in the Finger Lakes region, she said, "1,000 people signed the Pledge to Protect Seneca Lake. So far, 92 of them, from age 19 to 90, have honored that pledge and have been arrested at the gates of Crestwood. Having taken that pledge to heart myself and being mindful of my past oath [as a veteran] to protect against all enemies, foreign and domestic, I was one of the arrestees. And we’re not done. The We Are Seneca Lake bench is deep. Many more arrests are coming."
"Using the time-honored, nonviolent tools of Gandhi and MLK, we will fight you," she said. "We will stand in the way of heavy duty equipment. We will fight for our children and we will defend our right to clean water and clean air. Retreat and surrender is not an option."
In addition, a coalition of 850 elected officials from all 62 counties throughout the state, Elected Officials to Protect New York, are demanding that the moratorium on fracking be extended for another three to five years. They held a news conference in Syracuse today to present "significant evidence of harm, including hundreds of recent peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of drilling and fracking" and a letter to Governor Cuomo asking him to keep the door closed on fracking in New York.
“We share a sacred responsibility with Governor Cuomo to protect the health and wellbeing of our constituents, which is why we’re calling for a minimum three to five year moratorium on fracking as the science demands," said Jean Kessner, Syracuse City Councilor At-Large and co-coordinator of Elected Officials to Protect New York, at the press conference today. "We all depend on clean water, clean air and a clean environment for our health and economy. Let’s make sure New York stays that way.”
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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