Liz Benjamin - Fracking in New York

  Last Friday was the deadline for comments to be lodged with the DEC on its most recent set of regulations for the controversial natural gas drilling process known as hydrofracking.

Predictably, the well-organized and vociferous anti-fracking crowd seized on the opportunity to make yet another public plea to Governor Andrew Cuomo that he reject the idea of drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Artists Against Fracking, the organization formed by Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono, will be demonstrating at the Capitol at noon. Ono and Lennon, delivered more than 200,000 comments in opposition to drilling to the governor.

Drilling supporters like to cast the anti-fracking Hollywood set as elitist and out of touch. But Ono and Lennon actually have standing in this case. They say they’re trying to protect a rural upstate farm Ono and her deceased husband, John Lennon, purchased more than 30 years ago.

Cuomo was silent on the topic of fracking during his State of the State speech last week. But he later insisted his omission wasn’t of any consequence, noting that the process remains under review by the DEC.

The agency is expected to announce its decision by the middle of next month.

In the meantime, several key members of the Assembly Democratic majority have made it clear they are not pleased with the DEC’s review process. Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Robert Sweeney, Health Chairman Richard Gottfried, and Regulation Review Chairman Charles Lavine held a marathon fracking hearing last week that lasted well into the early evening and was dominated by drilling opponents. 

The DEC refused to participate.

The trio of legislators wanted Cuomo to suspend the latest 30 day comment period on the DEC’s proposed regulations until a controversial public health review is complete.

Their call went unheeded.

Now, I had been under the impression that the decision on fracking rests solely in Cuomo’s hands. But the governor’s former chief of staff, Steve Cohen, said last week during an interview on Capital Tonight that the Legislature actually has a role to play. 

If fracking is allowed even on a quote limited or a trial basis, Cohen said, an enforcement mechanism will be necessary, and that will require both budgetary and statutory action to put into place. In other words – it will require action by the Legislature, a body in which, as I mentioned earlier, there are some decidedly outspoken fracking opponents.

In multiple interviews, Yoko Ono warned last week of class action lawsuits if Cuomo green lights fracking. Add that to the wrench Cohen threw into the works, and this much is certain: No matter what the DEC announces next month, the war over fracking is far from over.

In fact, it has only just begun.

Liz Benjamin is host of Capital Tonight on Y-N-N.