Ever since the Department of Environmental Conservation published their draft regulations on hydrofracking in September of 2011, the regulations have been denounced by scientists, medical professionals, environmental groups and concerned New York residents. Now the secret is out: the DEC gave unfair access to the gas industry while writing these regulations. In the wake of this news, the Department is under fire all over again, this time from elected officials and good government organizations.
On June 28, the Environmental Working Group announced that through Freedom of Information requests, they obtained documents proving that the DEC gave the natural gas industry exclusive access to draft drilling regulations up to six weeks before they were released to the public or to any other stakeholders. These documents also revealed that gas industry representatives took advantage of this inside information by lobbying to weaken regulations before they were ever released. Specifically, industry lobbyists pushed to minimize reporting requirements designed to regulate toxic and radioactive runoff from drilling sites.
On July 10th, a gathering of elected officials, environmental groups and good government organizations came together to speak out against this collusion between the government and the oil and gas industry. Standing together, organizations such as Citizen Action, NYPIRG, Working Families Party, The League of Women Voters and Democracy Matters made it clear that this is no longer just a threat to the environment, human health, or small businesses, but a threat to democracy itself. When over 60,000 public comments are ignored in favor of a handful of privileged voices, the democratic process has ceased to function.
“Gov. Cuomo said that this process would be fair, transparent, and science-based, yet communications between his experts and the drilling industry fail to live up to that standard. New Yorkers deserve to know the extent to which oil and gas companies have shaped the state’s draft drilling plan,” said the Environmental Working Group’s assistant general counsel, Thomas Cluderay.
To that end, elected officials are calling for stricter scrutiny of the DEC’s relationship with the oil and gas industry. Senator Tony Avella is spearheading a Senate Democratic Conference forum on July 18 that will further investigate the full extent of the DEC and industry collusion. The Senator has invited the DEC’s Commissioner Joe Martens to the forum, which will also feature director and activist Josh Fox.
The forum will take place at 250 Broadway in the Hearing Room at 10 AM on July 18. Written testimony can be submitted to become part of the permanent public record. We urge all those concerned about fracking and ethics in government to come out for this public forum. Democracy survives through the power of the people, and it is through ordinary people speaking up that we will counter the corruption of the oil and gas industry.