Jim Gennaro wishes to highlight differences between Cuomo’s ‘nice’ words and state actions on hydrofracking

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James Gennaro. (Dan Rosenblum)
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James Gennaro, head of the City Council's environmental protection committee, sounds very much like he's preparing for a fight over hydrofracking.

"The boxing ring that I find myself in as chairman of this committee, you know, there are rules to boxing in that ring, so I’m playing by those rules,” Gennaro told a dozen people today in a Queens College lecture hall.

"The other 19 million residents of the state couldn't make it here today, but you're here,” he said, to a handful of students, Council staffers and a New York 1 reporter. “And I don't think you could fit 19 million in this room anyway.”

Gennaro, a former Queens College political science professor, used his boxing-ring metaphor to contrast his long fight against hydraulic fracturing in New York with his relatively limited powers on the Council. 
His staffer played 20 minutes of clips from the movie “Gasland,” a documentary on the dangers of fracking. Part of the excerpt intercut Gennaro and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer criticizing the practice and Gennaro giving a press conference on the City Hall steps.

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"The fact that it is regulated by the state instead of the federal government is one of the seminal problems right there," Gennaro said after the screening.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection has differed with the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation about what constitutes reasonable conditions that must be satisfied before there can be any fracking near the Catskill/Delaware watershed and the tunnels that carry water to New York City. While Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed to keep hydrofracking outside the watersheds, a recent state study recommended drilling more than 4,000 feet from watershed borders and 1,000 feet from non-critical infrastructure like tunnels.

Gennaro, among other city-based officials, thinks the buffer zones need to be larger, and sent those concerns to the state D.E.C. So far, they haven't responded, according to Gennaro.

"The city's kind of negotiating against itself in order to sort of play ball a little bit in the hopes that the state will give them the protections that they asked for," he told the room.

Gennaro said he intended to highlight differences between Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “very nice-sounding and very responsible” sounding statements about fracking and the state agencies' sometime-incongruous actions: “It’s nice when elected officials make statements like that because then you can thank them for their statements, for their good-sounding statements, and ask the agencies that answer to the governor to sort of live up to the governor’s good rhetoric on this. I have used that over the last year or so to sort of complement the governor on what he has said regarding fracking but to sort of characterize that perhaps he’s being ill-served by the people who are not being completely true to his good vision.“

“My job is hard sometimes,” he said. “So this is the boxing ring I find myself in.”

Though he's admitted being more comfortable with the science than the policy, he alluded to possibility of lawsuits.

“I’ve got a few more tricks up my sleeve as to how I’m going to try to, you know, duke it out with the powers that be in my little boxing ring, and I don’t want to make that your problem, and then you’ll be hearing from me about how I’m going to be doing that.”

As he was getting ready to leave, he knocked over a bottle of water at the podium.

“Thank God it wasn’t fracking fluid," he said. "So I think we’re OK.”