Saturday, February 9, 2013

Towns Will Face Significant Fiscal Impacts

Is hydrofracking an unfunded mandate? (video added)

That’s what a new group, Elected Officials to Protect New York, is saying, pointing to potential costs of dealing with a boom that could be created by allowing hydrofracking in New York, and to what they say are the uncertain long term benefits.
The group, which includes 612 members and includes outspoken officials such as Thompson County legislator Martha Robertson just held a press conference. Some of their concerns echoed those issued on Tuesday by the state Association of Counties, which is calling for the state to analyze local government costs of hydrofracking if it begins.
The process, of course, isn’t currently allowed in New York and the debate over whether it should or shouldn’t be allowed is taking much of the air out of broader environmental discussions such as the budget hearing earlier this week.
Update: Here’s video from the press conference:
Here’s their release:
On the heels of a statement from the New York State Association of Counties calling fracking a new mandate and questioning how fracking will impact municipal budgets, Elected Officials to Protect New York (EOPNY) held a press conference detailing the costs of fracking on local governments and economies and called fracking a new unfunded mandate. EOPNY is a nonpartisan, geographically diverse group of 612 local elected officials from all 62 New York State counties. New York State’s fracking review has exhaustively considered – and significantly inflated – potential benefits of fracking but has entirely neglected to analyze negative municipal and economic impacts, leaving local governments and communities in a dangerous position as a key fracking decision deadline closes in. They concluded that, given the many remaining unanswered questions, there should be no decision by the arbitrary deadline of February 27. But if a decision must be made by then, there is enough information to say “no” to fracking in New York, but not enough to say “yes”.
EOPNY also revealed that after 7 months of requesting a meeting to discuss their concerns, Governor Cuomo formally rejected their request, even though he met with representatives of the gas industry on May 9, 2012, yet to public knowledge has not met with anyone with concerns about fracking. They also revealed (attached) back and forth letters with DEC Commissioner Martens, in which the elected officials have been met with a frustrating level of secrecy.
“There are major costs associated with fracking that the state has acknowledged but not analyzed or planned for,” said Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson. “Those include significant municipal, community, economic, public health, and environmental costs. As it stands, fracking stands to jeopardize our constituents’ health and well-being, meanwhile creating a new unfunded mandate on local governments.”
The elected officials noted that predictions of economic benefits have not held true in Pennsylvania and other states where fracking is already happening, and that they are based on inflated and outdated shale gas reserve estimates.
“The gas industry’s claims of job creation are wildly overstated and most of the drilling jobs go to non-local workers. Estimates of jobs and tax revenues are based on gas reserve estimates significantly greater than what the latest U.S. Geological Survey study shows,” said Town of Rochester Supervisor Carl Chipman. “It is unconscionable that New Yorkers are being asked to accept so much risk based on the pivotal promise of jobs and tax revenues, when the promises appear to be spin and propaganda.”
The DEC’s own study, consulted out to Ecology & Environment, Inc., identifies that local governments would experience “some significant negative fiscal impacts” due to fracking including “road construction, improvement, and repair expenditures…expenditures on emergency services such as fire, police, and first aid…additional expenditures on public water supply systems…local governments would be required to increase expenditures on other services, such as education, housing, health and welfare, recreation, and solid waste management to serve the additional population”.
Shockingly, that is where the state’s report ends, with no analysis and no numbers. There is no analysis or evaluation to inform a decision about fracking and there is no plan to avert heavy burdens on local governments and economies.
“Fracking is a new unfunded mandate on local governments. The DEC’s own report said so,” said Albany County Legislator Bryan Clenahan.
The officials noted that they have long called for the state to do a thorough socioeconomic analysis. Town of Otsego Councilmember Julie Huntsman said, “The DEC has failed in its responsibility to property analyze the socioeconomic impacts of fracking and as such does not fulfill basic SEQRA requirements.”
EOPNY has pursued a meeting with Governor Cuomo since June, as his partners in government who are concerned about fracking. They objected to the fact that the governor has met with representatives of the out-of-state oil & gas industry but will not meet with representatives of a group of 600+ elected officials from across the state. Town of Pulteney Supervisor Jane Russell said, “We question the Governor’s priorities if he has time to meet with representatives of the fracking industry but no time to meet with the representatives of our mutual constituents, the people of New York.”
Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan, Owego Mayor Kevin Millar, and Elmira Mayor Sue Skidmore released this joint statement, “As mayors from the largest cities in the Southern Tier, we are greatly concerned about the municipal costs and economic impacts of fracking. The Cuomo administration’s review noted potential impacts but entirely neglected to study them, instead only presenting potential benefits based on outdated and inflated gas reserve estimates. Governor Cuomo does not have the economic information to make an informed decision about fracking, and fracking threatens to jeopardize already-struggling local governments’ economic vitality, and the public health of our citizens.”
The officials also raised grave concerns about the secrecy and inadequacy of the state’s health review. EOPNY has called for a comprehensive health impact assessment, as well as for public comment and participation on the current review.
“Many health professionals have raised essential questions on this topic, but the administration has failed to answer them,” said Village of Cooperstown Trustee James Dean. “What are they hiding? We believe that a health review done in secret, with no public participation whatsoever, is insufficient to address the significant concerns to public health from fracking.”
The officials revealed a letter they received in January from DEC Commissioner Martens in response to a letter EOPNY sent him in early December. Martens’ letter was filled with empty assurances, continued the state’s secrecy around fracking, and contained no substantive responses to the concerns raised.
EOPNY released their January 28, 2013 letter responding to Martens, which ended, “We believe that New York State has not met its legal responsibility or its good government responsibility to thoroughly study all concerns related to fracking, allow public participation, and give adequate consideration to concerns raised by the public. For these reasons we believe the state does not have the grounds to allow fracking. If you must make a decision at this time, the precautionary principle dictates that your agency must choose to prohibit it.”
After the press conference, the officials delivered a letter to Governor Cuomo on behalf of EOPNY that raises concerns about speculation that the state is considering allowing ten to forty fracking wells potentially described as a demonstration project.
The letter states, “We do not see this as a viable option. We believe that under such a plan the gas industry or other entities would sue to open up other areas of the state, and that you would in effect leave the fate of all our constituents in the hands of the legal system. It is highly questionable that the state could have the ability to pick and choose permits for even a small fracking pilot program in the Southern Tier. Against your best intentions, we fear that opening the door to the gas industry for even one well could turn into an uncontrollable situation.”
Other elected officials at the press conference included Town of Clay Supervisor Damian M. Ulatowski, Albany County Legislator Doug Bullock, and Albany County Legislator Charlie Dawson, Albany Common Councilmember Dominick Calsolaro.

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