What’s Behind The Headlines?
This week Governor Cuomo announced that the state is “restarting” the regulatory process that would create the rules under which high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) could proceed. When asked why the state would be doing more work and undertaking a health impact review, he answered that “it will be a stronger review to withstand a legal challenge.”
Contrary to indications last week that he was likely to back away from fracking, the Governor strongly stated this week, “there is no step back.”
It’s unfortunate that the Governor has framed the need for a health review as a legal defense issue rather than as a critical element necessary to protect the public health. None-the-less, now is the time for Governor Cuomo to demonstrate he has a high level of concern for the public’s health by elevating his current plan for an internal health review to hiring an independent entity to lead a comprehensive and rigorous Health Impact Assessment (HIA). An HIA distinguishes itself from other kinds of public health investigations by using quantitative, qualitative and participatory techniques (learn more), and is the only process that will give the Governor the facts and data necessary to make science based decisions about fracking, his own frequently quoted fracking policy goal.
In an interview today on North Country Public Radio, Dr. David Carpenter, former employee of the state health department in the 1980s and Director of The Institute for Health and the Environment at SUNY’s School of Public Health said that while the agency has many competent health experts, working for a government that also has an agenda may compromise the work.
“The Health Department is a political body, it reports to the governor,” said Carpenter. “It is not independent.”
He said that when they wanted to study radon in homes while he directed the Health Department’s laboratories during the Carey Administration they couldn’t do it because the Governor was promoting insulation for energy efficiency. “We were not allowed to study what’s clearly a health hazard.”
Carpenter worries that with all the pressures from the gas drilling industry to allow fracking, as well as the state’s need for economic development, it might be hard for the Governor’s health department to remain objective.
The decision to “restart” the regulatory process is also an excellent opportunity to not only study the health impacts of fracking but also to study other critical elements that are missing from the current draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement before it becomes final. These include:
- The cumulative impact of multiple wells within specific areas. Currently the DEC has only looked at the impact on health and the environment of individual wells.
- What is really going on in Pennsylvania and other states where fracking has been implemented. The frequent reports from the fracking fields are almost universally cautionary tales of serious health impacts, contamination of the water supply and air quality, as well as damage to the physical and social infrastructure. if we commit ourselves to penetrating the obfuscation created by the non-disclosure agreements that the gas industry has imposed on individuals who have experienced problems, there is a lot to learn.
It is essential that all of us who have been working on this issue do not confuse the current move to study health impacts with progress or enlightenment by the Governor. Governor Cuomo has clearly stated that he is moving ahead with fracking and that the current delay is necessary to protect the state from what he expects will be a series of legal challenges. Catskill Mountainkeeper and others have been saying all along that the decision to frack in New York is a cold calculated risk assessment of how much damage will be done versus how much revenue can be collected for the state. This is an effort to tilt those odds further.
Join the Delaware Highlands Conservancy and Catskill Mountainkeeper for a Fall Hike at the Tusten Mountain Trail in Sullivan County, NY on Sunday, October 14 from 10am-12pm.
Enjoy great views of the Delaware River, fall foliage approaching its zenith, and traverse a historic stone arch bridge. Learn about the ecology, culture, and history of the area with Melinda Meddaugh, Land Protection Coordinator for the Conservancy.
The Tusten Mountain Trail is featured on the newly launched website,TrailKeeper.org, a one-source outlet for hiking trails and public lands in Sullivan County, NY with easy-to-read, easy-to-access maps and facilities information and guides to hiking safety. TrailKeeper.org provides access to trail information that matches hiker to trail.
The Fall Hike is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Contact the Delaware Highlands Conservancy at 570-226-3164, 845-583-1010, or send an email to [email protected] to reserve your space and receive directions.
Trailkeeper.org, launched in September 2012, is the result of a partnership between the Delaware Highlands Conservancy, Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Sullivan County Division of Planning and Environmental Management, the Sullivan County Visitors Association, and Morgan Outdoors.
On Thursday September 20, Joseph Martens, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced that the DEC will do a review of the potential public health effects of fracking. He said, “only after this evaluation is completed will a decision be made about whether to permit high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York…obviously, if there was a public health concern that could not be addressed, we would not proceed.”
Commissioner Marten’s response to the widespread concerns voiced by Catskill Mountainkeeper, medical professionals, concerned organizations and citizens is a welcome development in the regulatory process. However, his proposed “review of the potential public health effects of fracking” unfortunately falls far short of what is needed – which is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA).
An HIA is the gold standard used to study health impact. The process insures that the best available science, and all relevant perspectives are brought to bear on the analysis. It distinguishes itself from other kinds of public health investigations by being done in advance of any decision to approve or prohibit a proposed activity. It allows for public participation in scoping, hearings, reviews, meetings, and stakeholder consultations, especially with members of targeted communities. The health impact review proposed by Commissioner Martens is NOT an HIA.
In addition the HIA process would:
- Identify the potential effects of shale gas extraction on the health of the people of New York State and describe what its effects will be on our citizens. With 19.5 million people, New York is the third most populous state. Even small increases in the incidence of chronic health problems could potentially impact thousands of people and create ruinous health care costs.
- Consult independent experts from multiple disciplines to evaluate the complex hazards and exposures created by shale gas extraction.
- Have special emphasis on vulnerable subpopulations including infants, children, pregnant women and the elderly. For example, an HIA could examine the associated air pollution impacts on birth weight, childhood asthma, heart attack and stroke.
- Analyze not only the causes of illness but also the conditions that affect health, which include personal behaviors, social and economic factors, the built environment, and the physical environment.
- Consider the health risks from cumulative impacts and throughout the entire life cycle of shale gas extraction and transport including radon exposure from pipelines, radon in homes and apartments, exposures to lead and toxic chemicals and the potential for exposure to toxins from drilling wastes.
- Examine occupational health risks to workers.
- Recommend actions to minimize or eliminate the health effects that it identifies.
TAKE ACTION NOW
Please send an email using our easy to use form to Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Martens to thank them for agreeing that unless all public health concerns could be addressed, high-volume hydraulic fracturing would not proceed in New York and tell them that the only form of health review that will meet the high standards required is a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA). Our message to the Governor and the Commissioner is that to do any less would be an abdication of the state’s responsibility to protect the public’s health.
PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SEND AN EMAIL TO GOVERNOR CUOMO AND COMMISSIONER MARTENS RESPECTFULLY REQUESTING THAT THEY COMPLETE AN INDEPENDENT HEALTH IMPACT ASSESSMENT