New Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) documents indicate that Larry Schwartz, Secretary to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and one of the governor’s closest advisors, has a conflict of interest due to his stock investments over his role in New York's decision on whether to allow fracking. Documents also indicate that New York Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment Robert Hallman has failed to make specific financial disclosures. Groups including Public Citizen, Food & Water Watch, Frack Action and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy released a letter to Albany County District Attorney David Soares that details concerns and calls on DA Soares to investigate.
Schwartz has reported stock investments in several drilling companies with interests in shale gas including a company that he lists as "Mobile Exon" apparently a reference to Exxon Mobil, the nation's largest natural gas producer with a direct interest in the outcome of New York's debate over hydraulic fracturing due to its recent $41 billion purchase of XTO, a subsidiary with 43,000 acres of natural gas leases in New York.
Documents show that Schwartz invested in Exxon Mobil for the first time in 2010, just after Exxon purchased XTO and acquired a direct interest in the outcome of New York's debate over hydraulic fracturing. Recently-obtained documents from the Cuomo administration also show that XTO directly lobbied Schwartz last year about the state's shale gas drilling plan when Schwartz may still have held Exxon stock (2012 financial disclosures do not come out until later this spring).
Schwartz has also reported financial interests in a firm he identified as "Williams Co.," apparently a reference to "The Williams Companies Inc.," an oil and gas pipeline firm that has an interest in the Marcellus Shale formation, particularly given with the Williams Companies recent $750 million "Constitution Pipeline" that would go through the Southern Tier and connect with existing pipelines in Schoharie County.
"This information raises questions about whether Mr. Schwartz has a conflict of interest between his public duties and his private investments," said John Armstrong of Frack Action. "We want to ensure that New York's decision regarding high volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas is impartial, transparent and science-based in accordance with the high standards that Gov. Cuomo has set for this process. While the review process has already suffered from a lack of transparency and has fallen short of these standards, we believe that evidence recently brought to light about two of the governor's top aides raises additional serious concerns."
The timing of Schwartz’s apparent investment in Exxon raises further concern. After leaving Westchester County to go to a high ranking position in NYS, rather than divesting, Schwartz added investments.
Concerns about Robert Hallman stem from the fact that he has failed to adequately disclose his investments on his state financial disclosure forms. The vague terms that he has used on these forms to describe his investments such as "various corporate stock" without naming any specific stocks, prevent the public from assessing whether Hallman might also have a conflict of interest or at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Alex Beauchamp Northeast region director of Food & Water Watch said, "We are outraged to discover that Governor Cuomo's top aide is so heavily invested in oil and gas companies and further that he made these investments during the very timeframe this administration has been considering whether to allow fracking in New York. Clearly, this administration must not allow fracking to move forward under this cloud of scandal." Food & Water Watch is a national watchdog group that works to ensure high standards of impartiality and transparency in government officials.
Jill Wiener of Catskill Citizens said, “We are asking for this investigation because elected officials and their appointed personnel are entrusted with working for the public good. It is essential that their own financial/personal interests are properly disclosed and that those interests have no influence or decision making power that would raise even a whiff of impropriety. The decision on whether to allow shale gas extraction [fracking] into New York is too critical to be in the hands of anyone who may have financial interests that may cloud their judgment.”
A new website was launched, www.NYFrackingScandal.com, detailing a string of problems in the state's review of fracking, ranging from conflicts of interest to a lack of transparency. The website, which will serve as the staple of a social media campaign to publicize the failures of the state's review, also features a timeline of improprieties. The site hosts the background materials for the call for DA Soares to investigate Schwartz and Hallman. It also features a number of documents related to fracking that have been revealed through FOIL requests, but have been heavily redacted. Those redacted documents appear to be notes of meetings with drilling industry representatives during critical time periods.
Julia Walsh of Frack Action said, "NYFrackingScandal.com serves to put all of the worst offenses in the state's review of fracking in one place. When you put it all together, it paints a pretty bad picture. We believe that Governor Cuomo is being misled and misinformed on the science and facts about fracking as well as the process. Those who are pushing to open New York State's doors to fracking are not serving the governor well and the citizens of New York."
The groups call on the governor to listen to the concerned voices of his constituents, meet with them, and bring transparency and public participation to the fracking review process.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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By Maria Trimarchi and Sarah Gleim
If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
<p>Why environmental refugees flee their homes is a complicated mixture of environmental degradation and desperate socioeconomic conditions. People leave their homes when their livelihoods and safety are jeopardized. What effects of climate change put them in jeopardy? Climate change triggers, among other problems, desertification and drought, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/deforestation.htm" target="_blank">deforestation</a>, land degradation, rising sea levels, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/flood.htm" target="_blank">floods</a>, more frequent and more extreme storms, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/earthquake.htm" target="_blank">earthquakes</a>, <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/volcano.htm" target="_blank">volcanoes</a>, food insecurity and famine.</p><p>The September <a href="http://visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2020/09/ETR_2020_web-1.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Ecological Threat Register Report</a>, by the Institute for Economics & Peace, predicts the hardest hit populations will be:</p><ul><li>Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa</li><li>Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan (which are among the world's least peaceful countries)</li><li>Pakistan, Ethiopia and Iran are most at risk for mass displacements</li><li>Haiti faces the highest risk of all countries in Central America and the Caribbean</li><li>India and China will be among countries experiencing high or extreme water stress</li></ul>
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In his latest documentary, My Octopus Teacher, free diver and filmmaker Craig Foster tells a unique story about his friendship and bond with an octopus in a kelp forest in Cape Town, South Africa. It's been labeled "the love story that we need right now" by The Cut.
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