Lawmaker says fracking could ruin Cuomo 2016: ‘All it’ll take is one incident’

Tony Avella. (Dan Rosenblum)
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At a rally at City Hall this afternoon, State Senator Tony Avella said that hydrofracking could spoil Governor Andrew Cuomo's presidential prospects.

“Governor Cuomo, if you allow hydrofracking to occur in this state, you own it,” said Avella, a Queens Democrat. “And if you want to run for president, all it’ll take is one incident, one contamination, that we know will happen, and your dream of running for president is over. It’s over.”

Though drilling would occur at a distance from many state waterways and resevoirs that supply the city, the state's decision to potentially allow for the controversial method of oil and gas drilling in certain upstate counties has energized critics who say the state's Department of Environmental Conservation hasn't considered all of the potential hazards.

As Gannett’s Jon Campbell reported, Cuomo yesterday said he supported municipal home rule as an answer to the fracking question, allowing some towns to ban or approve the practice. He's indicated a more formal plan is coming this summer, potentially in the next couple of weeks.

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Today's rally, organized by New Yorkers Against Fracking, featured politicians and environmentalists wearing stickers, buttons and a banner with the Statue of Liberty knocking over drilling wells with her torch.

Several speakers called for Cuomo to revisit a draft environmental impact statement, issued last September. Referring to a trove of emails obtained by the Environmental Working Group that purport to show collusion between the state D.E.C. and members of the oil and gas industry, Avella called the initial document an “absolute disgrace.”

“It proves that entire process has been manipulated to allow hydrofracking to occur in this state,” Avella said.

(The D.E.C. didn’t immediately respond to a request for a response.)

Toward the end of the press conference, Avella spoke to a small group of reporters about Cuomo's timing.

“I think it’s fascinating that all of a sudden, he seems to be moving ahead, D.E.C. seems to be moving ahead right after we leave Albany," he said. "You know, like now we’re not there, he’s--If they’re gonna do this, that would be an additional insult to the legislature.”

Avella also responded to Cuomo’s statement that a summer decision would free the fracking decision from politics.

“You know, the oil and natural gas companies have been donating millions, not only advertising, but donating millions of dollars to elected officials in this state for years and I believe they’ve also been donating to the Committee to Save New York, so you’ve gotta question, you know, how much influence they’re exercising through their donations,” he said.

Avella, who also spoke out against hydrofracking when he was a councilman, is planning a July 18 public forum where, according to one of the organizers, he’s planning to “shed further light on the issues relating to the D.E.C. and industry collusion.”

UPDATE: Response from D.E.C. spokeswoman Emily DeSantis:

"To gather important feedback from stakeholders, DEC has regularly and routinely met with environmental groups, industry, local government representatives and other stakeholders as it develops the final SGEIS for high-volume hydraulic fracturing. In addition, DEC is carefully reviewing and considering all comments received during the public comment period. These comments and stakeholder input will inform the program developed by DEC.

"Under State Administrative Procedures Act (SAPA), state agencies are required to assess the impacts of the regulatory action on the regulated entity. Agencies cannot gather this data without holding meetings and engaging in other forms of communication with the regulated community prior to proposing the regulation. Nothing in the regulations changed as a result."