Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Message from Sandra Steingraber: Fracking Ban Celebration January 7

Dear fellow New Yorkers,

I’ve long imagined sending you this communiqué.

On January 7, 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.

A week ago today, 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 7, 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 7 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 7 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.

What: Rally to Celebrate New York Fracking Ban and Lead the Nation in Renewable Energy!

When: Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Time: 11:30 am - 2:30 pm

Where: Concourse Hallways, outside the entrance to the Convention Center, Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York


For a Shuttle in the Albany/Capital District region contact Susan Weber at or at 518-462-3247


Reserve a Seat in Westchester/Rockland/Newburgh,
Reserve a Seat in New Paltz,

Reserve a Seat in Kingston,

Reserve a Seat in Saugerties/Catskill,

Reserve a Seat in Syracuse/Westmoreland,

Reserve a Seat in Ithaca/Caroline/Whitney Point,

Reserve a Seat in Binghamton,

Reserve a Seat in Buffalo/Rochester,

To Reserve a Seat in Cooperstown, Oneonta or Sharon Springs contact Susan Pastor at

For general RSVP, Carpooling, Comments and To CO-SPONSOR sign up here,

Co-sponsors (in formation):

New Yorkers Against Fracking
Frack Action
Food & Water Watch
Catskill Mountainkeeper
Citizen Action of New York
Sierra Club - Atlantic Chapter
Alliance for a Green Economy
Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
United for Action
Environmental Advocates
Center for Health, Environment and Justice
Environment New York
Citizens Campaign for the Environment
New York Working Families Party
Green Party of New York
Progressive Democrats of America
Syracuse Peace Council
Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation
Park Slope Food Co-op
Occupy the Pipeline
Water Defense
New York Society for Ethical Culture
Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) - NY
Gas Free Seneca
Rochesterians Concerned About Unsafe Shale Extraction
Sanford Oquaga Area Concerned Citizens
Vestal Residents For Safe Energy
City of Binghamton Residents Against Fracking
Western NY Drilling Defense
Southern Tier Against Fracking
Otsego 2000
Concerned Citizens of Montauk
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater
MoveOn Long Island
MoveOn Capital District
NYC Friends of Clearwater
Grassroots Environmental Education
Three Parks Independent Democrats
Westchester for Change
All Our Energy
Coalition to Protect Communities from Fracking's Collateral Damage
Marcellus Accountability Project
Back to Democracy
Yoga for the Earth
Cayuga Lake Watershed Network
New York Youth Against Fracking
Sierra Club Niagara
Western NY Environmental Alliance
Nurse Rise
GreenStar Co-operative Markets
Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition
Shaleshock CNY
Campaign for Renewable Energy
Damascus Citizens for Sustainability
Community Free Democrats
New York State Young Democrats
North Shore Audubon Society
South Shore Audubon Society
GDACC (Gas Drilling Awareness of Cortland County)
Environmental Justice Committee, SUNY Cortland
Nassau County Green Party
Mothers Out Front
North American Climate Conservation and Environment
Franciscan Earth Corp
Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition
Western NY Peace Center
Slow Food Huntington
Stencils Against Fracking
Jews Against Hydrofracking
Stop the Minisink Compressor Station
Campaign for Renewable Energy
People for a Healthy Environment
Sustainable Tompkins
The Pearl of Seneca Lake Bed and Breakfast
Fossil Free & Green NY
Southern Cayuga Anti-Fracking Alliance
Reach Out America
Protect Orange County
Learning Sustainability Campaign/Green Watch
The Kirkland Committee to Prohibit Hydro-fracking
Gandhi Earth Keepers International
Friends of Sustainable Sidney
Friends of Butternuts
Frack Free Genesee
Elmirans and Friends Against Fracking
Bay Ridge Peace Action
Bay Ridge Democrats
Barnard Columbia Divest for Climate Justice
Ban Fracking Now
Alchemical Nursery
MoveOn New York
MoveOn Finger Lakes
Interfaith Moral Action on Climate
Granny Peace Brigade
Residents Opposing Unsafe Shale Gas Exploration (ROUSE)
Broadway Democrats
Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Club
MoveOn NYC
Physicians for Social Responsibility - New York Chapter
Sierra Club - Lower Hudson Group
Huntington - Oyster Bay Audubon
People for a Healthy Environment
We Are Seneca Lake
Baum Forum
Chefs for the Marcellus
American Sustainable Business Council
Businesses Against Fracking New York
Residents Against Fracking Tioga
Green Sanctuary, UUCB, Binghamton
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
New York State Sustainable Business Council
Brooklyn For Peace
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    Sunday, December 21, 2014

    Hydraulic Fracturing Banned in New York State December 17, 2014

    New York is banning the drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing.
    Growing evidence about the risks posed by the process make it the right decision.

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo always promised that he would let science determine New York's future course when it comes to fracking.
    In announcing Wednesday the state will formally ban high volume hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process of pumping water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to release and extract natural gas, the governor delivered on that promise.
    In that, Mr. Cuomo deferred to the recommendation of his acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, who released a 176-page, two-year health study that found widespread fracking will likely contaminate the state's air and water and pose significant health risks to residents of the communities around the drilling sites.
    Dr. Zucker's compelling conclusion, in which he posed the question of whether he would raise his family near a drilling site, put it best: "After looking at the plethora of reports behind me ... my answer is no."
    In banning fracking, New York goes against the trend in which a growing number of states are attempting to cash in on a natural gas boom. But that very boom provided state Health Department researchers the abundant and ever-expanding foundation of data that led to their overwhelming conclusion. States where fracking has been under way are experiencing myriad problems with methane, benzene and other volatile organic compounds polluting the groundwater and air. Data also link the gas drilling process with earthquakes.
    In 2009, when New York land owners and developers were urging at least limited fracking to tap the gas-rich Marcellus shale formation, only six peer-reviewed studies on the environmental health impact of the hydraulic drilling process were available. Today, 154 such reports have been completed, examining various types of drilling operations in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and elsewhere, according to Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Health Energy, a New York-based group opposed to hydrofracking. Long-term studies also are under way, which the group believes will reveal cancer and respiratory problems for residents of the communities where there is gas drilling.
    Skeptics may say Gov. Cuomo's decision was politically easy, coming during an oil glut that has reduced demand for natural gas. But by instituting an outright ban on fracking, the Democratic governor is already taking political hits from the drilling industry and many Republicans, particularly in the financially pressed Southern Tier and Western New York. Even there, however, fracking's wisdom is disputed by many.
    Now the governor and his staff must follow through on his pledge to find alternative and safer economic development opportunities for those areas, which have been struggling for decades.
    Scientific research will continue on fracking, and surely technological improvements will, as well. There might come a time when the process is safe enough for some use in New York. But the science today is clear: that time isn't now.

    Tuesday, December 9, 2014

    Alan Chartock: Gov. Andrew Cuomo Should Close Door on Fracking

    When politicians take money for their campaign coffers, they owe something back. That’s because there is honor among, well, politicians and lobbyists. If you see tons of money going to politicians from the real estate industry, you’d be foolish not to think that the people who own hotels and other big buildings want something back for their bucks. As Festus Haggen used to say on Gunsmoke, “Don’t you see?”

    Now everyone is waiting to see whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will allow hydro-fracking in New York State. Cuomo is brilliant at both political strategy and fund raising (about $45 million for the last campaign) but he is caught up in a huge pincer movement between those who hate the idea of potentially polluting our water and further despoiling our air and those who want to make a buck from fracking. My hero, legendary folk singer Pete Seeger, put it to Cuomo this way: “Your father was perhaps the best governor New York State ever had and if you take the money that they want to give you for going along with fracking and injuring people for generations to come, you will go down as perhaps the worst.” Those were pretty powerful words and I suspect they left Cuomo reeling.

    Hydrofracking puts Cuomo between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t know what to do. As a result of this predicament, the governor’s top people were almost certainly told to stall. So first the commissioner in charge of environmental conservation studied the problem to death and then transferred the ball to the health commissioner who eventually resigned and went elsewhere. It’s tough to be a medical professional of first rank and have to carry a governor’s political water.

    Many people speculated that once Cuomo got through the election he would call for a modified fracking plan for New York whereby localities that voted to allow fracking would be allowed to “Drill baby drill” under strict supervision. They suspected that the Solomon-like Cuomo would attempt to cut the baby in half. Once the door was open, however, the genie would be out of the bottle and fracking would become a reality in the Empire State. But not so fast — there are some intervening political realities.

    Cuomo has lost many voters on the left wing of the Democratic Party. Having styled himself as a social progressive and a pro-business fiscal conservative, the governor is getting beaten up by the more progressive members of his party. Fracking is no exception. A recent Pew poll showed that fracking is getting more and more unpopular among Democrats. So now the rock and the hard place are even closer together. After all, Cuomo got a million fewer votes in the last election than he got the time before. Many of those lost votes were those of angry Democrats who just stayed home. Since Cuomo is much smarter than I am, he’s got to understand that by accepting the money and not taking Pete Seeger’s advice against advancing fracking, he will lose even more of his natural voters.

    The truth is that while there seems to be a good deal of evidence that fracking is dangerous, it is even more significant that we simply don’t know exactly what the process will do to our water supply. Why in the world would we take a chance on risking our water, the most important thing on earth when it comes to human survival? People simply have to know that their governor is looking out for them and not for money to run for political office. While he clearly doesn’t want or need my advice, Gov. Cuomo really should close the door on fracking. That’s when the people will know that he cares about them. Sometimes doing the right thing is more important than playing the political game.

    Sunday Freeman columnist Alan Chartock is a professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at