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New Yorkers Call on Gov. Cuomo to Protect Thriving Tourism Industry from Fracking

Energy

Outside the summit, New York state residents handed out literature to participants.

On the day of Governor Cuomo’s tourism summit, New York bed-and-breakfasts, wineries and other tourism-related businesses highlighted fracking’s incompatibility with upstate tourism and called on the governor to protect the state’s tourism industry by banning fracking. New Yorkers Against Fracking also announced a radio ad running in Albany, emphasizing the risks that fracking poses to the state’s rural tourism industry. Dozens of citizens wore iconic “I (Heart) New York” t-shirts and handed out literature to participants as they entered the summit.

“If Governor Cuomo is serious about creating a thriving tourist industry that continues to grow our economy and upstate jobs then he will realize that fracking is incompatible with that future,” said Julia Walsh of New Yorkers Against Fracking. “Fracking will drive away tourists from New York who will fear their health will be compromised from a visit to the Empire State.”

Last week the Finger Lakes was named by Yahoo! as a location for “Lakeside vacations that have it all.” The Finger Lakes were recognized for their more than 100 wineries that line the shores of its 11 lakes, wine tours, the beautiful village of Skaneateles, the Corning Glass Museum and the Watkins Glen State Park where you can climb past 19 waterfalls. For years, winery owners in the Finger Lakes have been asking Governor Cuomo for a meeting to discuss their concerns about fracking. A letter requesting a meeting signed by more than 50 wineries never received a response from the Governor’s office.

“A major part of the sustainable economy of the Finger Lakes is tourism. Hydrofracking here would permanently destroy many more long term jobs than it could ever create. Once the fracking trucks start rolling in an area, the tourism economy there will grind to a halt, killing nearly every tourism related job,” said Art Hunt, owner of Hunt Country Vineyards near Keuka Lake. “Currently, the Finger Lakes has fertile soil, clean air and abundant clean water. As the western US runs out of reliable water, the Finger Lakes will become vital to the food production of this country. We cannot afford to lose any more farmland to any type of development.”

“After seeing the impact of this industrial activity in Pennsylvania, I have no doubt that it would irreparably damage all the work we have done to portray the Finger Lakes as a pristine, beautiful place to visit. The heavy truck traffic we could expect on our country roads will be similar to that in major cities. This will definitely keep tourists away. If there are spills and accidents as there have been in PA, tourists will stay away if they think there might be health hazards,” said Pete Saltonstall, owner King Ferry Winery on Cayuga Lake.

The Baseball Hall of Fame has also expressed opposition to fracking through a statement in support of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce resolution against fracking.

The Baseball Hall of Fame issued the following statement in 2011:

“As an American treasure, and the cornerstone to this region since 1939, the Museum and county would undoubtedly suffer repercussions in the event of problems from hydrofracking—or even the perception thereof… A significant drop in visitorship could severely impact the Hall of Fame on many fronts, from day-to-day operations to staffing levels, while also leading to a significant decrease in tourism-related revenue for the village, county and state. Like the Chamber of Commerce and virtually every other area business, the Museum concludes that hydrofracking could present an unacceptable risk to the local environment, the economy and the quality of life for both local residents and tourists.”

More than 100 tourism-related businesses from New York have already joined the more than 1,000 businesses across the state calling for a statewide ban of fracking, as well as 150+ prominent chefs.

"The tourist industry in the Finger Lakes region of New York state is over a 3 billion dollar industry, with one of the main centerpieces being the wine industry. This is a renewable sustainable industry that we can pass on to future generations. The wine industry to some degree is in its infancy and will see nothing but growth over the next few decades, if we help it. Vineyards, wineries and tourism all depend on a fragile ecosystem that needs our help," said Louis Damiani, owner of Damiani Wine Cellars.

"To develop this area as a fracking and industrialized area can negatively impact this if not altogether ruin it for short term gains. If we develop fracking in areas close to the Finger Lakes it will still spill over and harm us. I implore Governor Andrew Cuomo to reconsider his position and do the right thing not the political right thing but the smarter, more ethical, more sustainable and yes, the better economical move and ban fracking in New York state," said Damiani.

“Governor Cuomo, the tourism industry is bringing in enormous revenue, the fifth leading revenue producer in NY. Our coalition of accommodation owners agrees that a clean, green New York is the direction that our tourism industry needs to take to have sustained growth. We believe that the fracking industry is in opposition to what we would like to see, which is for New York State to be the first green state in the Union,” said Alicia Alexander, owner of Amazing Grace Bed & Breakfast

As the fifth largest employment sector in New York state, the tourism industry provided nearly 700,000 jobs and approximately $17 billion in wages in 2011. Tourism is also a major source of revenue for New York, generating more than $7 billion for the state. The tourism industry depends on clean air and water, as well as an environmental quality of life that fracking would disrupt. Toxic byproducts from the fracking process often pollute the watershed and damage agriculture, putting growing tourism industries at risk.

In the Southern Tier, where fracking interests are targeting politicians with intense lobbying and political spending, visitors spent more than $239 million and the tourism industry generated $31 million in tax revenue and more than 4,600 jobs.

In other areas where fracking already exists, the arrival of gas workers has strained short-term accommodations during peak tourism season, since busy season for drilling occurs in the warmer months. It has created conflicts for tourism planners and officials and can paradoxically undercut the hotel room tax rate that is crucial to revenues that fund tourism services in the Southern Tier, because gas workers would likely stay in hotels long enough to avoid paying the tax.

In the Central Catskills, outdoor recreational activities attracted a total of nearly 2.5 million visitors to the region, creating an economic impact of more than $114 million.

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Ola Elvestrun, Norway's environment minister, announced Thursday that it is freezing its contributions to the Amazon Fund, and will no longer be transferring €300 million ($33.2 million) to Brazil. In a press release, the Norwegian embassy in Brazil stated:

Given the present circumstances, Norway does not have either the legal or the technical basis for making its annual contribution to the Amazon Fund.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro reacted with sarcasm to Norway's decision, which had been widely expected. After an official event, he commented: "Isn't Norway the country that kills whales at the North Pole? Doesn't it also produce oil? It has no basis for telling us what to do. It should give the money to Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] to reforest Germany."

According to its website, the Amazon Fund is a "REDD+ mechanism created to raise donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use in the Brazilian Amazon." The bulk of funding comes from Norway and Germany.

The annual transfer of funds from developed world donors to the Amazon Fund depends on a report from the Fund's technical committee. This committee meets after the National Institute of Space Research, which gathers official Amazon deforestation data, publishes its annual report with the definitive figures for deforestation in the previous year.

But this year the Amazon Fund's technical committee, along with its steering committee, COFA, were abolished by the Bolsonaro government on 11 April as part of a sweeping move to dissolve some 600 bodies, most of which had NGO involvement. The Bolsonaro government views NGO work in Brazil as a conspiracy to undermine Brazil's sovereignty.

The Brazilian government then demanded far-reaching changes in the way the fund is managed, as documented in a previous article. As a result, the Amazon Fund's technical committee has been unable to meet; Norway says it therefore cannot continue making donations without a favorable report from the committee.

Archer Daniels Midland soy silos in Mato Grosso along the BR-163 highway, where Amazon rainforest has largely been replaced by soy destined for the EU, UK, China and other international markets.

Thaís Borges.

An Uncertain Future

The Amazon Fund was announced during the 2007 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, during a period when environmentalists were alarmed at the rocketing rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. It was created as a way of encouraging Brazil to continue bringing down the rate of forest conversion to pastures and croplands.

Government agencies, such as IBAMA, Brazil's environmental agency, and NGOs shared Amazon Fund donations. IBAMA used the money primarily to enforce deforestation laws, while the NGOs oversaw projects to support sustainable communities and livelihoods in the Amazon.

There has been some controversy as to whether the Fund has actually achieved its goals: in the three years before the deal, the rate of deforestation fell dramatically but, after money from the Fund started pouring into the Amazon, the rate remained fairly stationary until 2014, when it began to rise once again. But, in general, the international donors have been pleased with the Fund's performance, and until the Bolsonaro government came to office, the program was expected to continue indefinitely.

Norway has been the main donor (94 percent) to the Amazon Fund, followed by Germany (5 percent), and Brazil's state-owned oil company, Petrobrás (1 percent). Over the past 11 years, the Norwegians have made, by far, the biggest contribution: R$3.2 billion ($855 million) out of the total of R$3.4 billion ($903 million).

Up till now the Fund has approved 103 projects, with the dispersal of R$1.8 billion ($478 million). These projects will not be affected by Norway's funding freeze because the donors have already provided the funding and the Brazilian Development Bank is contractually obliged to disburse the money until the end of the projects. But there are another 54 projects, currently being analyzed, whose future is far less secure.

One of the projects left stranded by the dissolution of the Fund's committees is Projeto Frutificar, which should be a three-year project, with a budget of R$29 million ($7.3 million), for the production of açai and cacao by 1,000 small-scale farmers in the states of Amapá and Pará. The project was drawn up by the Brazilian NGO IPAM (Institute of Environmental research in Amazonia).

Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, told Globo newspaper: "Our program was ready to go when the [Brazilian] government asked for changes in the Fund. It's now stuck in the BNDES. Without funding from Norway, we don't know what will happen to it."

Norway is not the only European nation to be reconsidering the way it funds environmental projects in Brazil. Germany has many environmental projects in the Latin American country, apart from its small contribution to the Amazon Fund, and is deeply concerned about the way the rate of deforestation has been soaring this year.

The German environment ministry told Mongabay that its minister, Svenja Schulze, had decided to put financial support for forest and biodiversity projects in Brazil on hold, with €35 million ($39 million) for various projects now frozen.

The ministry explained why: "The Brazilian government's policy in the Amazon raises doubts whether a consistent reduction in deforestation rates is still being pursued. Only when clarity is restored, can project collaboration be continued."

Bauxite mines in Paragominas, Brazil. The Bolsonaro administration is urging new laws that would allow large-scale mining within Brazil's indigenous reserves.

Hydro / Halvor Molland / Flickr

Alternative Amazon Funding

Although there will certainly be disruption in the short-term as a result of the paralysis in the Amazon Fund, the governors of Brazil's Amazon states, which rely on international funding for their environmental projects, are already scrambling to create alternative channels.

In a press release issued yesterday Helder Barbalho, the governor of Pará, the state with the highest number of projects financed by the Fund, said that he will do all he can to maintain and increase his state partnership with Norway.

Barbalho had announced earlier that his state would be receiving €12.5 million ($11.1 million) to run deforestation monitoring centers in five regions of Pará. Barbalho said: "The state governments' monitoring systems are recording a high level of deforestation in Pará, as in the other Amazon states. The money will be made available to those who want to help [the Pará government reduce deforestation] without this being seen as international intervention."

Amazonas state has funding partnerships with Germany and is negotiating deals with France. "I am talking with countries, mainly European, that are interested in investing in projects in the Amazon," said Amazonas governor Wilson Miranda Lima. "It is important to look at Amazônia, not only from the point of view of conservation, but also — and this is even more important — from the point of view of its citizens. It's impossible to preserve Amazônia if its inhabitants are poor."

Signing of the EU-Mercusor Latin American trading agreement earlier this year. The pact still needs to be ratified.

Council of Hemispheric Affairs

Looming International Difficulties

The Bolsonaro government's perceived reluctance to take effective measures to curb deforestation may in the longer-term lead to a far more serious problem than the paralysis of the Amazon Fund.

In June, the European Union and Mercosur, the South American trade bloc, reached an agreement to create the largest trading bloc in the world. If all goes ahead as planned, the pact would account for a quarter of the world's economy, involving 780 million people, and remove import tariffs on 90 percent of the goods traded between the two blocs. The Brazilian government has predicted that the deal will lead to an increase of almost $100 billion in Brazilian exports, particularly agricultural products, by 2035.

But the huge surge this year in Amazon deforestation is leading some European countries to think twice about ratifying the deal. In an interview with Mongabay, the German environment ministry made it very clear that Germany is very worried about events in the Amazon: "We are deeply concerned given the pace of destruction in Brazil … The Amazon Forest is vital for the atmospheric circulation and considered as one of the tipping points of the climate system."

The ministry stated that, for the trade deal to go ahead, Brazil must carry out its commitment under the Paris Climate agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. The German environment ministry said: If the trade deal is to go ahead, "It is necessary that Brazil is effectively implementing its climate change objectives adopted under the [Paris] Agreement. It is precisely this commitment that is expressly confirmed in the text of the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement."

Blairo Maggi, Brazil agriculture minister under the Temer administration, and a major shareholder in Amaggi, the largest Brazilian-owned commodities trading company, has said very little in public since Bolsonaro came to power; he's been "in a voluntary retreat," as he puts it. But Maggi is so concerned about the damage Bolsonaro's off the cuff remarks and policies are doing to international relationships he decided to speak out earlier this week.

Former Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi, who has broken a self-imposed silence to criticize the Bolsonaro government, saying that its rhetoric and policies could threaten Brazil's international commodities trade.

Senado Federal / Visualhunt / CC BY

Maggi, a ruralista who strongly supports agribusiness, told the newspaper, Valor Econômico, that, even if the European Union doesn't get to the point of tearing up a deal that has taken 20 years to negotiate, there could be long delays. "These environmental confusions could create a situation in which the EU says that Brazil isn't sticking to the rules." Maggi speculated. "France doesn't want the deal and perhaps it is taking advantage of the situation to tear it up. Or the deal could take much longer to ratify — three, five years."

Such a delay could have severe repercussions for Brazil's struggling economy which relies heavily on its commodities trade with the EU. Analysists say that Bolsonaro's fears over such an outcome could be one reason for his recently announced October meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, another key trading partner.

Maggi is worried about another, even more alarming, potential consequence of Bolsonaro's failure to stem illegal deforestation — Brazil could be hit by a boycott by its foreign customers. "I don't buy this idea that the world needs Brazil … We are only a player and, worse still, replaceable." Maggi warns, "As an exporter, I'm telling you: things are getting very difficult. Brazil has been saying for years that it is possible to produce and preserve, but with this [Bolsonaro administration] rhetoric, we are going back to square one … We could find markets closed to us."

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