Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fracking Regulations: DEC gets Buried in Public Comments and Sued

~ Regulations elicit 200,000 comments and legal charges against DEC ~

Boxes of public comments delivered to DEC headquarters in Albany
Public Comments:
Groups opposed to shale gas drilling and fracking collected over 200,000 public comments in response to revised proposed regulations issued by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The combined effort of these citizen groups was remarkable given that the DEC restricted public comments to the busy holiday period from December 10, 2012 to January 11, 2013. The groups delivered many boxes of public comments at DEC headquarters on the last day of the comment period (click photo to enlarge).

Shown at the podium in the photo above is Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, author and founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking. She created a website, called Thirty Days of Fracking Regs, to help people compose comments on the DEC regulations and submit them. Using a clever "Advent Calendar" approach, each day, for the 30 day commenting period, she posted one regulation, which she translated into plain English and included some science relevant to that regulation. 

Public comments solicited independently by many other groups (listed below*) were also included in the over 200,000 responses. Comments from individuals, other organizations and elected officials have yet to be counted. 

- Protest: Governor Andrew Cuomo was silent on hydrofracking in his State of the State address on January 9, 2013, but anti-fracking protestors were not. Over a thousand protestors turned out to line the concourse of Albany's Empire State Plaza where lawmakers passed on their way to hear the governor's speech. The protestors expressed their views on fracking through chants and banners (see photos here).

- DEC Deadline: The DEC has a February 27th deadline to either finalize the planned hydrofracking rules or allow them to expire. State law mandates that the final environmental impact statement (the SGEIS) has to be released to the public first, at least 10 days in advance of the rules deadline. The DEC may have to signal a decision on hydraulic fracturing by February 13, 2013 if they hope to meet an end-of-the-month deadline for finalizing a set of proposed regulations, as reported here. Missing the regulatory deadline would require the state to restart the formal proceedings.

Legal Charges against the DEC:
The DEC did not hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations within 30 days of the publication date of the Notice, i.e., by January 11, 2013. It turns out that was illegal. This and other flaws are cited in a legal demand letter to the DEC and NYS Inspector General from the Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc. by David F. Slottje, Esq. and Helen H. Slottje, Esq.. The letter opens with the following statements:
This letter formally advises and notifies the Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC") and the Office of the NYS Inspector General: (i) that the DEC has acted contrary to law and lawful procedure with respect to the matters described below; (ii) that the DEC's actions with respect to such matters were and are in excess of the DEC's jurisdiction and an abuse of the DEC's discretion; and (iii) that accordingly the DEC's actions as to such matters are invalid, null and void.
The full contents of the letter dated January 11, 2013 can be viewed here

Please consider donating to support the continuing efforts of the Community Environmental Defense Council.
* Groups submitting comments to the DEC included Thirty Days of Fracking Regs, Food and Water Watch, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Frack Action, Artists against Fracking, CREDO, New Yorkers Against Fracking, 350, Sierra Club, Signon, Working Families Party, Center for Biological Diversity, Citizen Action, GreenPeace, Earth Justice, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and United for Action

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