New Yorkers Deliver Unprecedented 200K+ Comments on Cuomo's Fracking Rules
On the final day of the 30-day public comment period on the Cuomo administration’s proposed fracking rules, a coalition of New Yorkers and organizations opposed to fracking—including Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon of Artists against Fracking—delivered an unprecedented 200,000-plus public comments to the state’s DEC.
On the final day of the 30-day public comment period on the Cuomo administration’s proposed fracking rules, a coalition of New Yorkers and organizations opposed to fracking—including Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon of Artists against Fracking—delivered an unprecedented 200,000-plus public comments to the state’s DEC. The more than 200,000 comments on the Cuomo administration’s draft regulations are more than three times higher than the record-setting 66,000-plus comments received during the last comment period, which was four times longer—120 days between September 2011 and January 2012.
“I am here in Albany today on behalf of Artists Against Fracking because there is no way to make fracking safe for our water, land, air or climate,” said Yoko Ono. “This week Governor Cuomo announced truly important efforts for clean energy and reducing greenhouse gases. We truly applaud these efforts of his—they are outstanding. With clean energy development, and by saving energy as the Governor has outlined, there is no reason to risk the dirty energy of fracking. We praise the Governor for his climate initiatives and call on him to make the moratorium on fracking permanent. We repeat our request for our artists and expert engineers to meet with the Governor to show him that fracking cannot be made safe for New York or the planet. Thank you.”
The overwhelming response by New Yorkers represents the significant concerns residents of the state have about the dangerous natural gas extraction process. Among the millions of New Yorkers opposed to fracking, those submitting comments have done so under protest because evidence suggests that no amount or type of regulations can prevent the dangers the process poses, and they disagree with the Cuomo administration’s decision to release draft fracking regulations before its own health review has been completed and made public. New Yorkers have been consistently and vocally expressing their opposition to fracking, with thousands protesting outside of the Governor’s State of the State address on Wednesday and hundreds demonstrating outside of his birthday fundraiser in New York City on Monday. Dozens of New Yorkers, including health professionals, also testified about the economic, environmental and health concerns fracking would bring to New York at a New York State Assembly hearing on the regulations Thursday.
“Our movement of New Yorkers from across this state, opposed to the dangerous process of fracking, only continues to grow,” said Alex Beauchamp, regional director of the consumer group Food & Water Watch. “The more we learn about fracking, the deeper and stronger our opposition becomes with greater numbers of our neighbors joining this movement. We expect Governor Cuomo to protect our state from the economic, environmental and health disasters of fracking and we will hold him responsible if he ushers in an era of catastrophes by allowing it here.”
Catskill Citizen volunteers with 24,000 letters boxed up for delivery to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Photo by Dana Duke
Governor Cuomo is weighing whether or not to allow fracking, but did not address it in his State of the State address, with Cuomo’s director of state operations attributing its absence to the ongoing health review. Rather than undertake a comprehensive health impact assessment of fracking, the Cuomo administration announced in September it would review its own study of the health impact of fracking. It hired outside experts to evaluate its review but has shut the public and transparency out of the process, even placing a gag-order on the experts paid with taxpayer money. It released its latest fracking regulations before the evaluation’s completion, guaranteeing the public would not see the review’s results before commenting on the regulations.
“The Cuomo administration has failed to conduct a true health assessment, failed to account for the health impacts in its regulations, and failed to include the public whose health would be impacted by fracking,” said biologist Sandra Steingraber of Concerned Health Professionals of NY. “It’s perfectly reasonable for New Yorkers to ask for the gold standard and transparency in any study on how allowing fracking in our state will damage public health. Yet the Cuomo administration has rejected our calls for transparency and due diligence and shut us out, making this not only a public health issue but also a human rights issue. New Yorkers today are resoundingly saying no to fracking, no to Governor Cuomo’s regulations, and no to the secrecy of this process that is serving no one but the gas industry.”
Since fracking began in states outside of New York, there have been numerous reports of water contamination with studies linking fracking-related activities to contaminated groundwater, air pollution, illness, death and reproductive problems in cows, horses and wildlife, and human health problems. Concerns about the exaggerated economic benefits touted by the gas industry and the faulty economic analysis of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have also been raised by New Yorkers and economists.
The gas industry has poured millions of dollars into New York to influence state government through campaign contributions to elected officials and lobbying. In July, a Freedom of Information Act request by Environmental Working Group revealed gas industry lobbyists were given preferential access to draft regulations by DEC, allowing them to lobby for changes before the regulations were released to the public. A few weeks ago, Common Cause released an analysis of campaign contributions of pro-fracking interests during the 2012 election cycle. It showed pro-fracking interest contributed nearly $400,000 to candidates for state legislature and county executive in New York’s Southern Tier. In some races, contributions from pro-fracking interests were more than 20 percent of a candidate’s total fundraising.
“In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, over 75,000 CREDO members, including over 20,000 New York state voters, are calling on Gov. Cuomo to abandon his dangerous plans to frack New York, and accelerate climate change,” said Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager for CREDO. “It’s time for Governor Cuomo to stand up and be a leader to protect New Yorkers and bring a better future—not help gas companies reap huge profits with their plan to bring us dozens more Sandys.”
“Gathering comments decrying the proposed regulations has been a terrific collaborative effort and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy is proud to deliver more than 23,000 comments collected on behalf of our members,” said Jill Wiener of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.
A coalition of civic, environmental and progressive organizations—as well as businesses and faith organizations—from around the state have participated in grassroots efforts to encourage New Yorkers to express their concerns about the Cuomo administration’s fracking regulations by submitting comments. Almost 200 coalition organizations participated in comment-generating actions such as holiday writing parties, phone banks and community meetings.
“New Yorkers don’t want fracking in our state and don’t believe Governor Cuomo’s regulations will protect us from its dangers,” said Beauchamp. “The opposition displayed by the overwhelming and unprecedented number of comments we are submitting displays how deeply impassioned opposition is to sacrificing our state to the gas industry.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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