Sunday, October 24, 2010

Who's looking out for NY State's Environment?

Environmental Commissioner Fired

NY Gov. Paterson's administration fired Pete Grannis, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation (D.E.C.), after a dispute over cuts to the department’s budget.

Earlier, Mr. Grannis sent a memo to the administration spelling out the negative effects that more layoffs would have on the agency, and the memo was leaked by an unknown source to The Times Union of Albany. The secretary to the governor, Lawrence Schwartz, asked Grannis to resign, but he refused.

In an interview, Mr. Grannis said, “We were asked to provide an analysis of how these layoffs would effect our agency’s operations, which we did, and somehow that got out.”

“We’ve taken a terrible hit over time,” Grannis said. “We’ve lost 600 people in the last 18 months, and this would be 200 more.” The agency’s workforce, now under 3,000, is at its lowest level in two decades, Grannis said.

"These staff cuts couldn't come at a worse time for the fight for clean water," stated Paul Gallay, Executive Director and Hudson Riverkeeper. "This also confirms that the agency will not be equipped to provide the necessary regulatory oversight to prevent the type of industrial pollution that has already ravaged much of the Marcellus Shale region due to gas drilling operations. Now more than ever, it is crucial for the DEC to work synergistically with Riverkeeper and other watchdog groups to make sure our environmental laws are enforced."

“The future of hydrofracking in New York State is really the most important environmental issue that we face, and we need a strong D.E.C. to protect New York State drinking water,” said James Gennaro, a New York City councilman. Mr. Gennaro was among the campaigners who successfully lobbied the D.E.C. to impose strict restrictions on drilling in the upstate watersheds that supply water to New York City.

The leaked memo was ominous in tone, warning of “potential serious risks to human health and safety and environmental quality” from the proposed staff cuts.

Environmentalists and public health experts from 16 organizations called upon Mr. Paterson to reinstate Grannis. Some said Mr. Paterson’s successor should reappoint Mr. Grannis and make fixing the agency a priority.

Laura Haight, senior environmental associate for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said: “When someone like Pete Grannis, who worked at the D.E.C. in the early 1970s and championed environmental laws in the State Legislature for 30 years before serving as commissioner, says that the agency is at its weakest point in history and that critical environmental programs are ‘hanging on a thread,’ people ought to listen. Instead, Governor Paterson fired him.”

So a movement is under way to have Mr. Grannis reinstated. There’s no chance of that in Governor Paterson’s remaining days before the November election, administration officials said.

But advocates like Rob Moore, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, is hopeful. “We’ll be urging the next governor to replace Pete Grannis with Pete Grannis,” he said.

For additional information, see the following articles:

No comments: