Cuomo’s green reputation hinges on hydrofracking decision
How green is Gov. Andrew Cuomo? The answer may come down to what the governor decides to do about hydrofracking.
With issues like redistricting, billion-dollar budget shortfalls and the legalization of same-sex marriage dominating the governor’s first 16 months in office, environmental issues haven’t exactly been at the top of his agenda.
All the same, some environmentalists say Cuomo is off to a good start on issues like hydraulic fracturing, the Indian Point nuclear power plant and the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
But for others, Cuomo’s environmental legacy will come down to what course of action he ultimately takes on hydrofracking—and for now it’s impossible to tell how the contentious issue will play out.
“I think the jury’s still out on his environmental record,” said David Gahl, the deputy director of Environmental Advocates. “If his administration decides to move forward on hydrofracking and how they intend to regulate it, these are big decisions that are going to cement his environmental legacy, and it’s not clear what direction they’re going yet.”
Yet the governor’s approach on hydrofracking, which uses millions of gallons of water laced with chemicals to break apart shale deposits and release natural gas, has been welcomed by other environmentalists.
Unlike other states, such as neighboring Pennsylvania, New York is taking a cautious, deliberative approach in reviewing the drilling procedure.
“Look, this is a highly charged issue, yet I think they’re handling it extremely well,” said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “They’re systematically doing the comments. They haven’t rushed to action. On the other hand, they haven’t said, ‘No, we’re going to totally give up on it,’ either. They’ve developed a measured approach.”
Cuomo has taken positive steps on other environmental fronts, too, said Richard Schrader, the New York legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. One of those is maintaining funding for the Environmental Protection Fund, a piggy bank for recycling, land conservation and other green programs.
And the governor has sided with some environmental groups on other issues, like shutting down the Indian Point nuclear power plant, although it’s not at all clear whether he’ll be successful in that effort.
“Obviously we support him on the direction he’s taken on Indian Point,” Schrader said. “It’s complicated negotiations, but so far there’s been a transparency to it, and he’s been reaching out to environmentalists, and there’s a lot of opportunity here to do some very good policy as far as an old plant that has a lot of dangers in being allowed to stay open.”
To be sure, Cuomo’s predecessors didn’t exactly set the bar very high. Gov. George Pataki made his mark on open space and land conservation and launched the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, but he also slashed staffing at the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Eliot Spitzer’s record as attorney general raised expectations that he would be a strong defender of the environment, but his term was cut short by a prostitution scandal before he made much headway.
When David Paterson took office, he came across as indifferent to green issues. While some of his cuts to environmental programs were the result of the state’s fiscal struggles, Paterson disproportionately targeted DEC and the Environmental Protection Fund.
“I think already Cuomo has shown that he’s been as good as or a stronger leader on environmental issues than the other three,” Schrader said. “We’re keeping an eye on the fracking issue, but even there he’s showing an inclination to do this in a slow and smart way. To environmentalists this is somebody who’s a supporter of the issues we care about.”
But environmentalists like Gahl aren’t quite ready to applaud the governor. Hydrofracking, they say, could have huge environmental impacts, and has drawn intense scrutiny from the public.
“The governor has spent a fair amount of his time talking about hydrofracking,” Gahl said. “I think it remains to be seen whether the governor will step in and take complete ownership of this issue, just based on the political importance and the mass interest from the public. This is a serious environmental and political issue for his administration.”
State Sen. Tony Avella, an opponent of hydrofracking, put it more bluntly.
“If the governor allows hydrofracking to go ahead,” he said, “he owns this. It’s on him.”
•Working to shut down the Indian Point nuclear power plant (in process)
•Maintained funding for the Environmental Protection Fund
•Launched New York Energy Highway, which could boost renewables and cleaner power (in process)
•Slashed funding for the Environmental Protection Fund
•Expanded the bottle-deposit law to include water bottles
•Issued a widely criticized report on hydrofracking and instituted a moratorium
•Increased staffing at the Department of Environmental Conservation
•Launched the innovative Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
•Began cutting staff at the Department of Environmental Conservation
Tags: Andrew Cuomo, David Gahl, David Paterson, Department of Environmental Conservation, Eliot Spitzer, Environmental Advocates, Environmental Protection Fund, George Pataki, Hydrofracking, Indian Point, Marcia Bystryn, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York, New York City, New York League of Conservation Voters, pennsylvania, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Richard Schrader, Tony Avella
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