Why 'Safe' Regulation of Fracking in New York Is a Fiction
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Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has routinely ignored citizen health complaints and has failed to collect data on reports of fracking related illness. Damascus Citizens for Sustainable Energy, a PA based advocacy group is planning to undertake that data collection soon.
The Dance of New York State Officialdom
If the Governor ends the current fracking moratorium, adopts the current fracking guidelines and begins permitting, one pressing question will be: Who will pick up the tab for any fracking related health problems? Currently, no one at the state level has addressed that question. A comprehensive health impact assessment would be needed to first determine risk, with the Department of Environment Conservation (DEC) accountable for devising safeguards. But as time runs out on the upcoming February 27 deadline (to accept or reject the current DEC proposed fracking guidelines), there is no such assessment and no such plan. Health related questions and concerns posed during the four-year and one-half year development of the guidelines remain unanswered. Nor did the state officials appear to be ready to answer any health questions at a budget meeting in Albany this past week.
"The experts will make their recommendations in that regard, and that would establish what surveillance, if any, is needed," said DOH Commissioner Nirav Shah, MD, characterizing the outcome of the Health Review he commissioned as unknown to him, even when the experts he hired say the review has been in his hands for two months.
The three nationally recognized health experts-- Richard Jackson, Chairman of Environmental Sciences at the UCLA School of Public Health, Lynn Goldman, MD, Dean of George Washington University's School of Public Health, and John Adgate PhD, MSPH, Chairman of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health, conducted the requested review -- albeit an abbreviated one -- months ago. The Review was not the transparent and comprehensive health assessment that New York Health Professionals, a statewide organization of physicians and scientists, had requested. In fact, the reviewers-though highly qualified, were barely given time -- a mere 24 hours of work apiece in a single week -- to consider the health implications of fracking in one of this country's most populous states.
From the outset, the state's secrecy raised questions about what the experts were asked to review. Were they mandated to look into the full extent of the science and the risks? Or were they invited merely to review the DOH's own health assessment within the DEC proposed fracking guidelines? If the experts were reviewing the DOH health assessment, then 24 hours would have been over ample-since there is neither an assessment nor any substantive mention of health in the existing guidelines. This lead State Senator Tony Avella to comment on February 4th that, "My concern is that the DEC review was nothing, and the outside scientists were asked to look at this, and they are reviewing nothing." Others share his concern that once belatedly released, the Review could turn out to be little more than a placebo-a Health Review if you believe it is.
Moreover, the state faces lawsuits for its premature issuance of the DEC proposed guidelines prior to incorporating the completed Health Review (along with any plans to address public health risks it surfaces.) The brief mandated public comment period on the guidelines was inconveniently scheduled by the DEC to occur during the recent Christmas holidays, perhaps to escape public scrutiny. Nevertheless, the 2013 public comments and concerns far exceeded even the impressive first round of public comments to an earlier draft; sixty-four thousand comments were filed by early 2012. Though mandated by law to respond to all comments, the DEC neither addressed nor referenced the first round of comments in the re-issued guidelines it released in mid-December of 2012. A new total of 204,000 public comments were submitted by the January 11, 2013 deadline with boxes of them hand carried to Albany by Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, and Sandra Steingraber, who founded and heads the coalition group, New Yorkers Against Fracking.