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.