Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Public Outcry Against Fracking In New York

On Wednesday, January 9, nearly 2,000 people rallied against fracking outside of Governor Cuomo's State of the State Address, in Albany, New York.

Folks  danced, chanted, shouted, drummed, and waved signs.  Pete Seeger sang, the Reverend Billy Talen shook and shouted halleluyah, Sandra Steingraber, Debra Winger, and Natalie Merchant spoke.  Voices of the thousands rang out loudly for hours.

Activists called for a permanent ban on fracking in the state of New York.

Geologists, chemists, biologists, and medical doctors argue that fracking is a threat to public health, will produce hazardous air and water pollution, and will endanger the state’s food supply.  It will contribute negatively to Climate Change, according to Phil Aroneanu, campaign director of  Of additional concern to many, as reported by Treehugger and the New York Times, among others, is the release of dangerous radiaoactive materials into the ecosystem through the fracking process.  As of now, the gas industry has no means or plan to contain such radioactive waste.

The rally was inspired and led by those who are concerned, in particular, about the revised DEC's fracking regulations, issued at the end of November, 2012, and before the completion of health and science studies called for by Governor Cuomo, to determine the safety of hydraulic fracturing in New York.

Katherine Nadeau of the Environmental Advocates of New York points out:

“Issuing revised regulations before the science or health studies are in is a reversal by the Governor, who once pledged to let the science drive decision-making on fracking. We’re calling on the Governor to put the public over the gas industry’s profits—let the health and environmental reviews proceed without artificial deadlines, and let the science guide the process.”

Here Sandra Steingraber, with Pete Seeger, explains her position on Fracking at the rally:

The public comment period on these regulations began on December 12, and ended on January 11, 2013.  This gave the public a very short period of time to read and digest these complex regulations--during the holidays, and after Hurricane Sandy.  Regardless, fracktivists jumped quickly to action, with a call to all New Yorkers to participate in a massive letter writing campaign-- Thirty Days of Fracking Regulations--led by Sandra Steingraber and Grassroots Environmental Education.  Many other grassroots fracktavist groups followed suit with their own fracking regulation letter-writing campaigns.

In total, 204,000 individual letters critiquing the regulations were hand delivered to the office of the DEC on January 11, by Sandra Steingraber, Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono and others.

On January, 10, following the rally, a public hearing to address the concerns of scientists, physicans, economists, environmentalists, and other citizens regarding the DEC's revised fracking regulations took place in Albany, New York.   Politicians were sympathetic to the many concerns of those who spoke.

Here is the text of Sandra Steingraber's words at the hearing:

My name is Sandra Steingraber. I am Distinguished Scholar in Residence in the Department of Environmental Studies at Ithaca College. My Ph.D. is in biology, and I have spent the last twenty years researching and writing in the field of environmental health. I have served as a science advisor at both the state and national level, working with the state of California on its research program to investigate the causes of breast cancer and with both the National Action Plan on Breast Cancer under the Clinton Administration and President’s Cancer Panel under George W. Bush.

I’m here to speak today as a founding member of Concerned Health Professionals of New York. This is a group of scientists, physicians, and nurses that came together last fall, in a spirit of shared alarm, when we learned that the DEC’s study of the health effects of fracking—which we had long asked for—was not going to be conducted using any normative protocols nor in an open manner, which is also normative for public health inquiries.

A normative protocol for a health study that attempts to forecast the public health risks of a polluting activity that has not yet been approved is called a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment. It was designed by our nation’s Centers for Disease Control and is endorsed by the World Health Organization. An HIA has, as one of its fundamental elements, democracy. It is scoped and carried out in a transparent manner and with the participation of the public at every stage. This participation takes the form of public hearings and periods of public commentary. It does so out of the recognition that when the public is being asked to endure possible risks to its health from a polluting industry, the public has the right to witness and participate in the study that will help determine the decision-making as to whether to permit or prohibit this industry.

In addition, when the lay public contributes its own local and historical knowledge to an environmental health study, the study design is better for it. Public participation makes for better science.

What is going on right now with the so-called health study underway at DEC and DOH is the very opposite of that public spiritedness. The DEC has, under the cover of secrecy, scoped and carried out a health review of some kind that no member of New York’s scientific community has seen. This review is itself being reviewed by DOH chief, Dr. Shah, and a team of three distinguished public health experts from out of state. We do not know what this team has been asked to review, but we do know that two of the three of them have signed contracts with non-disclosure agreements.

And we do know, from the introduction to the newly released regulations for hydraulic fracturing released by the DEC on November 29, that the decision whether or not to frack New York hangs on the results of these outside reviewers.

Thus does the health of 19.5 million New Yorkers depend on the results of a secret review of a secret review.

And thus, Concerned Health Professionals of New York came together. Not knowing what data the reviewers have been asked to comment on, we hastily created a website on which we uploaded all of the important reports and peer-review studies that we know of—from investigations of well casing failures to radioactivity in production brine (which is to be spread on our roadways). We also uploaded our many unanswered letters to DEC Commissioner Martens, DOC Commissioner Shah, and Governor Cuomo.

And I’d like to add here as an aside:  My 11-year-old son receives answers to his letters to the Governor. I never have. We share the same mailing address.

Concerned Health Professionals of New York also took the unusual step of creating an eight-minute video message to the three outside panelists in which we—doctors, nurses, and scientists—describe our long-standing, unaddressed concerns about fracking in New York State. We uploaded this as an embedded video. And then we emailed each of the reviewers to let them know that we had created this website repository of data for them, out of our concern that the document that they are reviewing—whatever it is—does not address itself to all the animating issues.

Can I just say how crazy this feels to us? These three outside experts are our colleagues. Two of the three are personal friends of mine. We have spoken together on panels and at conferences. They share data with me. I cite their research in my writings. And now a gag order prevents them from speaking to me about data that I as a New York scientist am not allowed to see.

The leak last week to the press of what looks to be an old draft of this health review turns our alarm into full-blown cynicism. This eight-page document contains no data. It is a series of assertions that seems to say that the health effects of fracking are unknown and unknowable by any future research. Therefore, regulations can mitigate them. Therefore, fracking is safe.

This is not sound scientific reasoning. The premises on which its logic rests cannot be evaluated because there are no citations or footnotes or references. Emerging evidence in the scientific literature flies in the face of its conclusions.

The DEC and DOH needs to be asked, “What is this document? Who wrote it? For what purpose? What are your sources?”

I’m aware that this Assembly has invited the DEC Commissioner to his hearing to explain himself—an invitation that he refused.  To justify the no-show, DEC spokesperson Emily DeSantis issued a statement pointing to the previous hearings attended by Commissioner Martens.

Concerned Health Professionals of New York condemns this statement. The refusal of the DEC to appear at this hearing and answer questions about the health review has not only broken Governor Cuomo’s promise of transparency, it has broken public trust itself.

Although New York citizens have been entirely cut out of the decision-making process on fracking, the public continues to have profound interest in participating in the inquiry and the decision-making process of fracking.

I know this because I designed a website to help people create comments on the revised draft regulations over the holidays. It’s called Thirty Days of Fracking Regs, and it takes an Advent calendar approach to public commentary. Each day, for the last 30 days, I have posted on this website one regulation, which I then translate into plainspoken English. I then provide some science relevant to that regulation. Because there is no final SGEIS to serve as the scientific basis for the regs, I did that research myself. I then invited the public to create a handcrafted comment about that regulation.

Tomorrow, I will be hand delivering all the comments that my readers and I created together. There are more than 20,000 of them. All are original and unique. As a metric of public commitment and concern, I would like to point out that 500 of them were written on Christmas Day. On New Year’s Day, more than 1000 comments came in. In addition, college students home on break devoted their free time to crafting comments as part of a group project called Homework Against Fracking.

These and other initiatives that have guided citizens through the comment-writing process means that we will hand-deliver to the DEC more than 200,000 comments tomorrow, January 11, which is the final day of comment delivery. We require a U-Haul to do so. And I understand that such a truck has already been rented.

I am asking you now to help ensure that each one of these comments is logged by the DEC, read, and considered.

Finally:  outside of Governor Cuomo’s State of the State address yesterday, more than 1,500 people protested against fracking. That event included a recitation of the Pledge to Resist Fracking in New York. The Pledge is a solemn commitment to engage in actions of non-violent protest and demonstration up to and including civil disobedience should the Governor greenlight fracking for New York under the undemocratic, fatally flawed decision-making process now underway. Prior to yesterday, more than 6,000 people had already signed this solemn pledge. I am one of them.

I dearly hope that we do not have to activate this pledge, that the signatures of thousands of New York citizens alone will have the power to move the Governor to the exit door.  But the very existence of the Pledge to Resist Fracking in New York is clear sign not only of loss of faith in the DEC but of loss of faith in government itself.

Governor Cuomo will make his decision regarding fracking in New York state in February, 2013.   New Yorkers hope he will do the right thing and put science, health and environmental safety before the economic profit of the gas industry.

Inspired by the many brave frackatvists in New York, I signed the Don't Frack New York pledge to "join with others to engage in non-violent acts of protest, including demonstrations and other non-violent actions, as my conscience leads me," if Governor Cuomo allows fracking to take place in the state.  As a mother, cancer survivor, and environmentalist, I pledge do my best to protect the land, water, air and food systems for the health and safety of present and future generations.

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