|Winter Vista, Adirondacks, New York State|
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
12.17.14: Today New York Governor Cuomo announces that there will be no HVHF--High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing--in New York State.
As the New York Times reports:
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of uncertainty over the controversial method of natural gas extraction.
State officials concluded that fracking, as the method is known, could contaminate the air and water and pose inestimable dangers to public health. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/18/nyregion/cuomo-to-ban-fracking-in-new-york-state-citing-health-risks.html?_r=1).The hero of the day was acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker:
In a presentation at the cabinet meeting, the acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, said the examination had found “significant public health risks” associated with fracking.
Holding up scientific studies to animate his arguments, Dr. Zucker listed concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and said there was insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the long-term safety of fracking.
Dr. Zucker said his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want to live in a community that allowed fracking?
He said the answer was no.
Zucker said. “The potential risks are too great. In fact, they are not even fully known.”And that was that. As Cuomo put it himself, "it wasn't really his decision." No fracking in New York--possibly ever.
There's much to celebrate here, but first a couple of caveats:
First, this does not mean that the fight over Crestwood's bid to use Lake Seneca for LPG storage--at the immense risk to health, road safety and ecological integrity--is over at Watkin's Glen. Indeed, the struggle to preserve this magnificent chunk of the Finger Lakes may even intensify as Crestwood doubles down to make sure it's own dirty gambit is not threatened by the governor's decision. At 100 arrests for civil disobedience and counting, we have much to learn from these brave folks--teachers, doctors, professors,
|Protest at Crestwood facility gates|
10.24.14. Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
|Protest Horseheads, NY, late Summer 2012|
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
Imagine, if you will, a conversation--a Winter's eve fireside chat--between Governor Cuomo and Governor elect Wolf over the New York fracking ban. Imagine especially in light of the following:
“Governor-elect Wolf opposes a ban, and he will work hard to make sure the process is safe,” responded Jeffrey Sheridan, Press Secretary for Wolf’s transition team.
“Pennsylvania’s natural resources should help the commonwealth become an energy leader, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as a magnet for investment and job creation,” he continued. “Governor-elect Wolf’s priority is to ensure that Pennsylvania is an energy leader with all Pennsylvanians sharing in the prosperity. http://www.politicspa.com/pa-gov-wolf-reiterates-support-for-fracking-after-ny-ban/62505/
Cuomo: My gosh--what a day I had! Settling that fracking business once and for all. Thank goodness Zucker is so on his game. Didn't really leave me any choice, and that's fine by me.
Wolf: Well, Andrew, that's all very nice for you, but I have to fix the mess my predecessor made cutting funding to education. After all, that's what we Dems do.
Cuomo: I hear you brother, but you know, some of those science studies really are pretty condemning. Don't you PA folks have some article attached to your Constitution about the right to clean air and water?
Wolf: Yes, yes--but, Andrew, the Frackity Mc'Frack horse is already out of the barn! We're at 8200 wells and counting our way to 400,000. Plus, the only "movement" against the industry we really have in PA doesn't actually do much of anything but stand on the steps of the Capitol occasionally--blocking access to the lunch cart down the street. They "demand," we yawn. We tell them to head on home. A few occasionally give us the opportunity to show off our state police, and heck, we contract out to surveil the rest. These folks are pesky--but harmless. Gosh Darnit if they didn't all vote for me anyways! And they'll do it again. Oh, ummm, that's article 27 you're talking about, I think. I'll have to check with my transition team--but I've got that covered.
Cuomo: How so, Tom?
Wolf: Well, I'm not really sure--but I've got this crack environmental transition team straight from the gas industry, and they're going to tell me everything I need to know. Some of them--like Denice Brinley--have real government experience that they took with them right to the industry, so I'm sure they'll be helpful.
Cuomo: Wow! Man, if I had let that study of the health effects from HVHF be done by anyone with any gas-related connections, they'd have run me right out of Dodge!
Wolf: Yeah, well here in the Texas of the East, folks are very patriotic. Our country's energy independence and national security come first! And that means way before other "rights" like property rights, freedom of expression rights, Article 27 rights--hey, we can't let rights get in the way of our funding for education!
Cuomo: But... Tom, isn't that a little self-defeating? I mean, after all, doesn't Pennsylvania want citizens who are educated--so as to exercise their rights in smart sorts of ways?
Cuomo: Well, ummm, ok. You know, we have the same battles going on over a lot of this stuff--like pipeline infrastructure--in New York that you have in PA--but we get it that the pipelines aren't really about energy independence and national security. That gas is headed right for LNG export facilities--you know that, right? Do Pennsylvanians get that?
Wolf: Oh, sure they do! We all know that. There are some very determined citizens here in PA working tirelessly to get township supervisors to vote for ordinances that would keep out, well, the whole nasty business.
Cuomo: So....you do see it as a "nasty business"?
Wolf: Well, sure it is--but what was I supposed to do? I inherited the industry from that other Tom. If I get my way, it's a cash cow!
Cuomo: Maybe, Tom--but are your Republicans really gonna let you have an extraction tax?
Wolf: I doubt it--but hey we're politicians, right? It's not about what we're really gonna do; it's just about what we say we're gonna do--like make fracking safe. Plus....I think the science must just be wrong. That Zucker fella--he must be paid by some lefty health think tank.
Cuomo: Uh, well, no. Zucker's a medical doctor with a sterling reputation, and that report, well, here, you can read its 184 pages for yourself. http://media.syracuse.com/news/other/2014/12/17/NYS%20%20DOH%20fracking%20health%20report.pdf
Cuomo: Well, OK. Does it worry you that "cashing in" could mean that the very students you'd use the money to educate could be facing frack-related disease before they can cash out their diplomas to the state's advantage? has anyone ever suggested to you that you're, as it were, torching the furniture to heat the house?
Wolf: Oh, come now, Andrew, that's a bit on the side of hyperbole, isn't it? I'm only going to let some folk's furniture burn--not everyone's.
Cuomo: Ummm, well, who get's to be the lucky sacrifice zone?
Wolf: The folks who already are! Folks who aren't likely to put up all that much of a fuss, who--like your Southern Tier people--would be happy to get a few bucks in royalties.
Cuomo: But Tom, a good number of our Southern Tier folks are sitting in jail right now for protesting Crestwood's plan to build an LNG storage facility on Lake Seneca.
Wolf: Yeah--but you don't actually think that will make a difference, do you?
Cuomo: Ummmm, well, it was the people who demanded a moratorium until a health study could be performed.
Wolf: What? You listen to your people?
Cuomo: Well, ummmm, yeah, actually, I do. It's uncomfortable to be sure, but it seems to be part of the governor's job description.
Wolf: Nah.And on this chat might go. The point, however, I think is this:
New York's ban certainly has consequences for Pennsylvanians. But if we allow the governor elect to decide those consequences, we will see no change, no respite from the ongoing danger to our own health, properties, ecologies. Indeed, wasting time appealing to Wolf--who has made his position crystal clear in his transition team selections--is a waste.
Cuomo: Hey, Tom, we're banning fracking in New York effective today. The risk is just too great, and we're gonna pout our energies into renewables and conservation here in the Empire State.
Wolf: You know, Andrew, you're right. This fracking business is way too risky. I see that now. Time for me to change course for the sake of future Pennsylvanians.
Cuomo: The thing that really got me was when Dr. Zucker said he wouldn't want his kid playing next to a drilling operation. Yup--that did it.
Wolf: Damn straight--and too many PA kids have already suffered the consequences of my predecessors mistakes. Not on my watch. How about we do a joint press release that will rock the socks off those dang Republicans and their Democrat pals?
Cuomo: What did you have in mind, Tom?
Wolf: Fracking stops in Pennsylvania right now. Not just permits in the offing--but all operations--they'll just have to pack up and head on home to Texas.
Cuomo: You know, you might get sued.
Wolf: Yup--I might. And I might not get re-elected. But it's high time we said that the Keystone State was no longer up for becoming a global extraction colony, don't you think?
Cuomo: Just one last question, then--who do we call first?I don't, for what it's worth, think the difference between Cuomo and Wolf is anything as exotic as moral fortitude. After all, the real hero of Cuomo's story isn't Cuomo--it's Zucker. And since we know this fact--Wolf and Cuomo are both politicians whose party affiliations don't really matter all that much--isn't it time we simply do for ourselves what the New York health study has done for New Yorkers?
Namely, take back our right to clean air and water?
Not ask nicely not to be forfeited to the gassers and the pipeliners.
Not make vacuous demands at our rallies not to be horse-traded for gas company profits.
Not send out one or two activists to be arrested as a show of our solidarity.
Not draft another petition.
Not write another letter pleading to be treated like human beings
Nope--none of that's gonna work.
Time to take the stand that we deserve what New Yorkers get just by living a bit North:
I have many times compared what this movement could be to the Civil Rights movement of the American 1960s. I have reflected a good deal on the well-intended criticism that, for example, there can never be another Selma, Alabama. And of course, there can't.
But what there can and must be is the willingness to be inspired by Selma, Alabama--to see that what we're struggling for in the 21st century is precisely the future that was and remains at stake in the 1960s. I don't pretend for a moment to comprehend racial discrimination. But I do comprehend discrimination with respect to sex and sexual orientation. And I do know what is at stake here. In the face of climate change--it's everything.
So, I will hold onto this comparison.
This is about human rights on a global scale.
This is about the rights of species and their ecologies to exist and develop along their own evolutionary trajectories.
This is about the future--because "sustainable" just ain't enough.
I don't know what Andrew Cuomo understands or doesn't. I do know that in ignoring the New York health report Tom Wolf is nothing but a mercenary politician whose fortunes depend on a system corrupt to its core and whose corruption he has already abetted.
We need to treat him as naught but a symptom of that.