DEC : Different Rules For Watersheds

Dear Readers:   In an astonishing and rapid fire exchange of information,  The NY Times posted an article  about the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) exempting  the NYC Watershed  from oversight  by its   draft generic environmental  review.   The Watershed Post picked it up,  called  Catskill Mountainkeeper, Ramsay Adams and simultaneously notified  other news sources in  New York  so we could get the word out to you.

Go to The Watershed Post for continuing coverage on the announcement, extended comments  from DEC Commissioner Peter Grannis and local  reactions.

Here’s the DEC Announcement and  two  analyses  of the announcement and what it may mean for the rest of  New York State.  The first is provided by The Catskill Mountainkeeper and the second by Bruce Ferguson on behalf of  Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy.

BREAKING NEWS: DEC Attempts End Run Around Natural Gas Drilling Concerns (The Catskill Mountainkeeper )

At first glance it appears as if the State’s announcement today to offer separate reviews of gas drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds is being done to protect the drinking water of New York City and Syracuse.

However, in reading the DEC’s statement closely, it is clear that they are not offering any special protections to these cities but are instead saying that the rules to determine permitting for gas drilling will be different in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds than in the rest of New York State.

The DEC statement said that gas drilling in the watersheds will NOT be regulated by the rules in the GEIS and that each individual well in the watersheds will need to go through an environmental review.

They did not say that drilling is banned in the watershed and they did not say that each individual well permit in the watersheds would need a supplemental impact study. Based on what they did say, the regulations governing permitting for gas drilling using hydrofracking in the watersheds will be different, which means that those regulations could even be less rigorous that those they would cover the rest of New York State.

There is no way to know the motivations or thinking behind the DEC’s statement, however:
It appears as if the DEC is trying to give the impression that there won’t be drilling in the watersheds to remove political pressure from New York City officials.

It also appears as if the DEC decided to exclude the watersheds from their final GEIS so that they won’t have to address the comments from the comprehensive scientific study that was prepared by the New York City DEP as part of their review of the Draft DGEIS.   We would like the DEC to clarify whether or not they will analyze these comments as part of their review process.

Whatever their motives, this announcement does nothing to further protect the people of New York State from health and environmental threats posed by industrial gas drilling.

Ramsay Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper said, “This is an attempt to take the watershed issue off the table without actually dealing with it, to fast- track drilling for the rest of us. And it’s not even protecting the watersheds. It’s bad on both levels. It’s a really unfortunate turn of events, because it doesn’t address any of the fundamental problems.”

Catskill Mountainkeeper calls on Governor Paterson and DEC Commissioner Grannis to hold up the issuance of any final report until all the scientific evidence (including the results of the recently commissioned report by the EPA) can be thoroughly reviewed and evaluated AND a second draft is issued so the public has the opportunity to review and comment.  The stakes are too high and the potential danger is too great to do otherwise.

Catskill Mountainkeeper
Ramsay Adams
Executive Director

Is New York City’s Water Supply Safe?  (Not Really.) (Bruce Ferguson on behalf of  Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy)

Today the NYS DEC took the extraordinary step of suddenly announcing that the Supplementary Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) that has been in the works for almost two years will not apply to the New York City watershed.  The DEC attempted to justify this abrupt policy shift by claiming that unfiltered water supplies have to be treated differently than other parts of the state.  But since the DEC made no attempt to say how or when it would regulate drilling in areas that supply unfiltered drinking water, the announcement effectively blocks drilling in NYC watershed for the immediate future.

This action won’t really protect New York City’s water supply, but it may achieve another end.  It may lull eight million New Yorkers into believing that they don’t have to worry about drinking water contaminated with the hundreds of toxic chemicals used in fracking fluid.

At a recent federal EPA hearing on fracking and drinking water safety, environmental scientist Dr. Duncan Patten reportedly remarked that toxic plumes in aquifers can travel hundreds of miles.  If Dr. Patten is correct, then today’s action by the DEC will do little to protect New York City residents.   Hopefully New Yorkers, their elected officials, and the media won’t be fooled into thinking that city water supplies are safe because drilling won’t be permitted in the watershed right away.

There is only one way to protect New York City residents and all New Yorkers – the state must observe a strict moratorium on all hydraulic fracturing until the EPA has had a chance to complete its ongoing study of fracking and drinking water safety.

If you haven’t done so already, please   Take Action Now!

A bill in the New York State Assembly (A10940) will impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until 120 days after the results of the EPA report are made public.  (Another important bill, A10633, will once again give our towns the power to pass ordinances that apply to gas drilling.

Please take a moment and let your legislators know that you support these two crucial bills.

Enacting legislation takes time, but Governor Paterson can protect our drinking water today. Call on Governor David Paterson to declare a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing until the EPA has had a chance to complete its study.

3 thoughts on “DEC : Different Rules For Watersheds”

  1. Does it seem a bit bizarre that the watersheds for Syracuse and New York City should be considered any differently than the water anywhere else in the state?

  2. Dear Amanda, Yes. Especially since DEC Commissioner Grannis, as reported by The Watershed Post, has admitted that the decision is based, in part, on threats of lawsuits by landholders who believe it is their right to do whatever they want with their property — regardless of how that might impact the health and welfare of the our total community.

    As was made plain in my article on Inverse Condemnation, we all have the right to enjoy our properties. We also have a responsibility to not despoil someone else’s.

    It is a profound mystery to me how preventing drilling deprives a landholder of the right to enjoy the many other pecuniary potentials of that property.

    As is being shown by the increasing refusal of banks to hold mortgages on leased properties, drilling is NOT a necessity to enjoying the rights of property ownership; in fact, it may interfere with it.

    And that doesn’t even get into the question of some property holders’ rights being more equal than others’. Or the value of some drinking water being more equal than others’.

  3. PS, Amanda. The underlying strangeness is that whatever meager protections exist relate to public water supplies. Most of us living in poor, rural areas have private water supplies. (Backyard wells.) So, even though the earth’s water is in finite supply and our aquifers serve the entire “public,” once the water’s in our wells, it’s not protected as the “public systems” are. Welcome to life down the rabbit hole.

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