Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Fireside Chat Between Governors: Andrew Cuomo Instructs Pennsylvania's New Tom About the Value of Human Rights

Winter Vista, Adirondacks, New York State
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee

*UPDATE* State Impact Interview:

What's most striking about Pennsylvania Governor Elect Wolf's claim in a State Impact interview is that Governor Cuomo's decision to ban HVHF in New York State is "unfortunate" is Wolf's admission that he "wants to have his cake and eat it too," effectively acknowledging that Pennsylvania will not be able to protect the health of its citizens and promote the objectives of the carbon extraction industry. After all, when we use that language--have your cake and eat it too--what we generally mean is that you can't

What Wolf makes clear is that "having his cake" is "protecting" the Delaware River Basin--the stronghold of his Democrat voting base--while continuing the sacrifice of the Susquehanna River Basin--"eating it too." The difference between these two? Socio-Economic status--or to put it more plainly: the Susquehanna River Basin is home to poorer folks--and that makes them more dispensable. 

No doubt, the governor would deny this elitism--but he can't.

The very same reasoning applies to the state parks and forests: preserve (what's left) of the "special places" of those who have the money and the leisure to enjoy them; make them into dioramas that a few folks can stroll through to convince themselves that we did something. Then, allow pipeline companies like Williams to convert a profit venture for LNG export like the Atlantic Sunrise into a "public utility" for the purposes of seizure via eminent domain for the rest of us--destroying our property values and despoiling our land and water.

As for the creation of a health registry: our response should be nothing but disdainful incredulity. What is the purpose of providing a registry of more instances of contaminated wells and streams, blow-outs, asthma, cancer other than to insure that future historians shake their head is disgust at our greed? What good will it do us to know that we've been poisoned when all we can do is decry it--but not put an end to the assault?

How many of the sick, dying, dead does Wolf need to see before he decides that the New York ban isn't "unfortunate"?

Do we really have any reason to trust Wolf--given the $273,000 he took in gas-soaked campaign donations--including money from IREX whose mission it is to gut the Clean Air Act--to make Department of Health (DOH) complaints concerning frack infrastructure "transparent"?


(1) The item on the top of Wolf's wish list is an extraction tax that will institutionalize the industry sewing it right into the tax base--making the gas thugs impossible--ironically--to extract, and making regulation even less likely since less oversight means more revenue.

(2) Wolf says in the State Impact interview that he's directing his transition team to review the New York Health Report. That, we have to say, would be laughable did it not portend ongoing tragedy. The Wolf transition team is an all-star cast right out of the gas industry (

The only thing more "unfortunate" than Governor Elect Wolf's willful acts of blindness are the activists who still try to convince the rest of us that he can be persuaded to change his mind. 

Activist: folks who wring their fists, hold up signs, create petitions demanding change--and then go home and tell each other they did the best they could having accomplished little more than the consumptive waste of precious time and energy.

Insurgent: what we need much more of.

Wolf depends on our remaining activists.
Here's the original:

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. (
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
wine-makers, retired folks, working people, students.

Second, Cuomo's decision does not mean that New York doesn't remain home to all manner of other frack-related infrastructure--including their own pipeline fights, sand production, etc. Indeed, that's what Crestwood is no doubt banking on--ban or no ban. So--we want to be clear about what exactly we're celebrating--but, we do and must celebrate every win.

Just as a reminder of that second point, here's a photograph from a protest at Horseheads--a frack sand transport depot:

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:

1. No health or safety study of any kind preceded the Pennsylvania fracking boom. There were no gatekeepers, no one watching out for the health and welfare of the state's citizens, no one to defend the state parks, game lands, mobile home communities, your private property. No one with any sort of power from either party raised a single objection to the invasion of the gas companies. Before we knew what sort of anvil had fallen on our heads, they were already drilling out our brains.

2. With the election of Governor Corbett was game-on. In the name of the "free market," energy independence," and "national security, it became essentially unpatriotic to object to "drill, baby, drill." A nascent and fairly disheveled anti-fracking movement was beginning to take shape--but we could not get clear on a message, and we just didn't seem to get the fundamental difference between regulation--that gives the green light to the gas industries--and demanding a ban--telling the gassers to go take a hike. Still don't. Even as the anecdotal but horrifying evidence begins to pile up--243 established reports of contaminated wells, the list of the harmed, an uptick in traffic accidents near well pads, rashes, asthma, etc. etc., the Pennsylvania movement just can't seem to get up its collective Chutzpah to decry the corporatist state's complete abandonment of its duties to clean air and water. What role a culture of post-traumatic resignation due to the wholesale destruction by the coal industry and before that the loggers, I don't know. But what I do know is that we were raped by this industry before we knew what was happening, and we just did not get up and really fight. And, while I respect very much my allies and friends who caution me about about the use of the word "rape," I am going to keep it because it signals the profound and irrecoverable wrong done to us by this industry. Just as the rapist deprives his victim of the integrity of her body (something I know firsthand), so too the gas industry deprives living things the integrity of that body upon whom we all depend--that of the earth, its soil, water and air.

3. New York instituted a moratorium before the first frackers could set foot on the soil of the Empire State citing the unknown potentially hazardous effects on human health. This set the wheels in motion for (a) a populist movement that still burns bright on the renewable fuel called hope--a fact whose import cannot be overestimated--and (b) the massive and comprehensive survey of the studies Dr. Zucker cites in his report to Governor Cuomo, a report that is every bit as relevant to Pennsylvania, and Colorado, and Ohio, and Michigan, and Wyoming, and Texas as it is to New York.

4. Despite a number of angst-ridden iterations of "Will the New York moratorium hold?" it did.

5. Hell-bent on electing some other "Tom," Pennsylvanians elected Tom Wolf, a Democrat whose affection for the gas not only rivals outgoing governor Tom Corbett's, but will potentially out-do it since, if Wolf gets his way with an extraction tax, the industry will become entrenched in the state's tax base. Education will become dependent on it 'til the boom goes bust, and then the industry will do what it was always going to do: leave. Leave a wasteland that will make the border between New York and Pennsylvania seem like that between a corpse and a living human being; and in many ways, that will be literally true. Wolf's environmental transition team reads like the board of directors of any Big Gas company, as I documented here: While New Yorkers still stand a chance of getting to sip fabulous Chardonnays and watch the sunset on their gorgeous Finger Lakes, Pennsylvanians will be lamenting their contaminated  wells, their loss of property value, and the fact that they didn't stand up and take a principled stand--even if that meant re-enacting a scene from Selma Alabama in the 1960s. 

6. Lastly, the New York ban could actually portend an uptick in the urgency of gettin' the gas outta the ground in Pennsylvania. As it sinks into the industry that some folks--at least New Yorkers--may be catching onto the fact that this drilling infrastructure in incompatible with life, they'll want to get their frack on at an even more accelerated pace. Indeed, Wolf wasted no time responding to Cuomo's decision. As reported by PoliticsPA: 
“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.

As I've argued elsewhere, this "have your cake and eat it too" strategy spells ecological doom for Pennsylvania since--as is now strengthened considerably by Zucker's findings--there is no safe HVHF. Add to that the pressure to regulate less in order to generate even more revue towards Wolf's second term election, that means Pennsylvanians may well be in for, even less oversight--even less time for PA-Citizens to get their act together for a collective and definitive--arrest me if you must--NO MORE.

So--what would this fireside chat look like?

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?
Wolf:  Nah.
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: 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.
Wolf: Nah. 
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. 

We have a primo opportunity to follow the lead of Watkin's Glen, and execute a strategy that in exemplifying courage will generate more courage. 

But, as I have said a thousand times, it's not going to change until we are prepared to put our bodies on the line. 

And that's more true now than ever

Why? Because the industry's already here--a point the significance of which cannot be overstated.

The drill pads, the pipelines, the compressor stations, etc are not just zits on the PA landscape; they're cancerous lesions scared into every hillside and field, every river and stream in one way or another. 

Getting the gas thugs out is more like having chemotherapy than a tidy surgical wart removal.

To extend the metaphor--it's as if New York read the Surgeon General's warning before they started smoking--and decided it wasn't worth the risk. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, went right our and bought a pack of unfiltered Camels as soon as they were on the market. And when folks started saying "Hey! That may be really bad for you!" Pennsylvanians launched into the usual litany of excuses:

"I can quit whenever I want!"
"The Surgeon general is lying!"
"Yeah, they're bad, but so's heroin!"

This, of course, no more describes all Pennsylvanians than it does all New Yorkers--as any cursory perusal of Energy in Depth's favorite child Vic Furman will attest.

Be all that as it may, the conversation between Cuomo and Wolf could have been very different:
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:

Human. Rights. 

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. 

Wendy Lynne Lee

1 comment:

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