Dear fellow New Yorkers,
I’ve long imagined sending you this communiqué.
On January 21, we’re holding a rally in Albany to celebrate our victory banning fracking in New York. We will also have a party afterwards in a nearby hotel in walking distance from the Capitol building where we will share stories, songs, food and drinks to celebrate this momentous victory.
On December 17, Governor Cuomo prohibited fracking in the state of New York, citing the Department of Health’s review of the public health impacts of fracking.
That 184-page report, released on the same day, pointed to troubling signs of harm and risk to our health, water, and air — and also revealed gaps in the data that still need to be filled in. Among the multitude of fracking-related problems documented in the DOH report: increased seismic activity, soil contamination, noise pollution, and respiratory complaints among those living near drilling and fracking operations in other states.
“The potential risks are too great,” said pediatrician and Acting Commissioner of Health, Dr. Howard Zucker, “In fact, they are not even fully known.”
After six long years of investigation, deliberation, and organized grassroots power, the public health argument won the day.
Our victory celebration takes place in the capitol building in Albany on January 21, during Governor Cuomo’s annual State of the State address.
And because activists party with a purpose, we have three goals in mind for our festivities. The first is to thank our governor publicly and effusively for standing up to the oil and gas industry, so becoming the first chief executive in a shale gas state to ban fracking.
As you might expect, the fossil fuel industry is not accustomed to the word NO from any elected official, and, for his courage, Governor Cuomo is now coping with a lot of blowback. Let’s make sure he knows just how momentously right his decision is — for us, for our children, and for the whole world.
In fact, I’ll start that laudatory conversation right now: Governor Cuomo, thank you. Your historic — and heroic — decision to prohibit fracking in New York is an affirmation of science, public health, and democracy itself. You’ve set yourself apart as a political leader and earned a place in history. As for those who now disparage the peer-reviewed findings of the DOH report, they sound more and more like the tobacco industry every day. In spite of what the gas industry says, good science is on the side of saying no to fracking.
Indeed, Dr. Zucker’s conclusions (“the overall weight of the evidence … demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health”) are echoed in three other recent independent reviews of the evidence: a 103-page compilation by Concerned Health Professionals of New York; a statistical analysis by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy; and a 540-page assessment by the environmental assessment agency of Quebec — the results of which have just prompted the Quebec Premier, Philippe Couillard, to extend the moratorium on fracking in that Canadian province indefinitely.
Our second task on January 21 is to celebrate and thank each other and recognize the extraordinary movement we have built, comprised of hundreds of grassroots groups and organizations, large and small. Let there be no mistake. Science alone did not a statewide ban make. The slingshot that brought down the gas industry Goliath was made of two elements: good data and powerful organizing.
Of and by us. Everyone who wrote a letter. Everyone who held a sign. Everyone who marched, rallied, testified, made phone calls, and circulated petitions. Everyone who broke a gas lease. Every community that passed a local ban or moratorium. And the more than 250 organizations that comprise the New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition. It all mattered.
Environmental writer Rebecca Solnit said it best: “The governor did it because he was pushed hard by activists. Look at the weather vanes, but respect the wind.”
As just one example of what a mighty wind we are, cast your mind back two years. Do you remember what you were doing in December 2012? Maybe you were writing daily critiques of the draft fracking regulations that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation had just dropped on us?
Do you recall the holiday season called Thirty Days of Fracking Regs?
Over that one-month comment period — which included Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years Day — New Yorkers wrote and delivered some 204,000 informed, science-based comments to the DEC.
To do so, some of us hunkered down, cleared our desks, and virtually canceled Christmas itself.
(I wasn’t at all sure at the time, but I’ll say it now: it was so worth it.)
The third goal for our party on January 21 is to articulate the opportunities ahead for renewable energy and express our ultimate desire: a transition from dirty fossil fuels and the destructive tentacles they spread throughout our communities. In this, we are responding to a challenge issued by Governor Cuomo himself when, during his cabinet meeting of one week ago, he pointed to the economic desperation in areas of upstate New York, asking, “What can we do in these areas to generate jobs, generate wealth … as an alternative to fracking?”
All together, I think we have some ideas to offer. Maybe even a blueprint for the future based on renewable energy and sustainable development. So, let’s convene. Let’s confer. Let’s put our heads together and begin the task of answering the governor’s good question.
As inspiration for our victory rally, and for the days ahead, here is a poem by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian poet and jurist. As you read, imagine the two contiguous worlds he references as the one that we currently occupy, in which dirty, destructive fossil fuels still dominate, and the one that we are beginning to imagine and plan for, in which they do not.
“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don’t go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don’t go back to sleep!”
Happiest of holidays!
Unfractured, now and forever,
p.s. Where were you when you heard the news that Governor Cuomo had prohibited fracking in New York? Let’s make time on January 7 to tell our stories. My own moment of astonishment and joy happened to be caught on film as Governor Cuomo’s announcement came just as 28 civil disobedients at Seneca Lake were being released from the Schuyler County Jail. A winery owner and a maple syrup maker — the very personification of sustainable development for upstate New York — hoisted me into the air for a bit of wild street dancing. You can laugh about it here.
p.p.s. The buses from Long Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan to Albany have been canceled because of another important event that evening: a public hearing in Queens concerning Port Ambrose, a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility off the coast of Long Island that would threaten the ecology and promote fracking. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.