Environment

Angry Crowd Protests Water-Threatening, Gas Drilling in New York

| by NRDC

By Eric Goldstein

You'd have thought that Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte
were right there, distributing autographed World Series photos.

But no -- the big crowd outside of Stuyvesant High
School Tuesday night was there for less glamorous but more weighty
reasons.

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They came to a 5:00 pm rally, to listen to Manhattan
Borough President Scott Stinger, New York City Council Environmental
Chair Jim Gennaro and others warn of the risks of proposed industrial
gas drilling on lands within the city's Catskill and Delaware water
supply watersheds.

And they came to testify at State Department of
Environmental Conservation's only New York City hearing on an
ill-advised gas drilling proposal that represents the #1 threat to the
downstate drinking water supply -- and indeed to other public water
supplies around the state.

Councilman Gennaro -- the City's Paul Revere of
drinking water protection -- was the first public official to speak
out, more than a year ago, against the state's plan to allow hundreds
if not thousands of new gas drilling wells on upstate lands, including
those near streams and rivers that feed New York City's Catskill and
Delaware system reservoirs.

This year, Borough President Stringer picked up the
bugle and has been assembling a growing band of elected officials and
citizen allies to call upon Albany to reverse course. It was Stringer
and his staff who organized the successful rally on Tuesday and secured
permission to host the event directly in front of the high school
itself.

The political reinforcements were on display -- both at
the outdoor rally and at the public hearing, which began in
Stuyvesant's beautiful auditorium at 6:30PM.

Among the elected officials (or their representatives)
who spoke up on behalf protecting the downstate water supply - with
most calling for an outright prohibition on gas drilling in the New
York City watershed and many suggesting that additional protections
were needed for upstate water supplies as well - were the following:

Borough President Scott Stinger

Councilmember Jim Gennaro

Congresssman Jerry Nadler

Councilmember Jessica Lappin

Councilmember Dan Garodnick

Councilmember-elect Margaret Chin

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney

State Senator Tom Duane

State Senator Liz Krueger

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal

State Senator Dan Squadron

Assemblyman Micah Kellner

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick

Assemblyman James Brennan

City Comptroller Bill Thompson

The crowd at the rally and the public hearing was both loud and overwhelmingly opposed to the State's gas drilling proposal.

The lead-off speaker at the hearing was New York City
Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler. His encouraging statement suggested that the
Bloomberg Administration could soon be joining the call for a
prohibition on gas drilling within city watershed boundaries. (Before
taking such action, however, the Administration is awaiting the results
of a consultants' study - due back in December.)

The Deputy Mayor was interrupted by a man who made his
way onto the stage and shouted his support for a "statewide ban" on gas
drilling - a view that was shared by others in audience.

Stringer and Gennaro were up next. Their strong
statements warning of dangers to the city's water supply from the state
gas drilling proposal received rousing cheers.

The environmental community was out in force as well.

Kate Sinding, NRDC's lead attorney on the New York gas
drilling campaign, was one of several speakers who pooh-poohed the
recently announced pledge by the President of Chesapeake Energy
Corporation that the company would not press ahead with drilling now on
city watershed lands. In Kate's testimony,
she said that the Chesapeake promise "does nothing to reduce the need
for the state to impose a permanent, legally-binding ban that applies
to all companies seeking to operate in the New York City watershed and
similarly vulnerable areas."

Representatives of Riverkeeper, Catskill
Mountainkeeper, Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, NYPIRG, Damascus
Citizens for Sustainability, NYH2O, Citizen's Campaign for the
Environment, Theodore Gordon Flyfishers and other environmental groups
also testified and presented a host of reasons for concern/alarm with
the draft environmental impact statement prepared by the State DEC.

It was encouraging to see the large number of city (and
upstate) residents who turned out to register their dismay with the
state's proposal. The Stuyvesant auditorium reportedly holds 850
people and when the hearing got underway, the vast majority of the
seats were filled.

A sizeable number of speakers and attendees voiced
their opinion that the state should implement an outright statewide ban
on industrial gas drilling.

The hearing stretched long into the night. Well over
100 speakers took the mike (we'll report the exact figure in our next
post.) All but a handful opposed the state's gas drilling plan.

Like previous hearings held upstate by DEC, the vast
majority of those who testified were making their voices heard in
opposition to the Paterson Administration's current policy direction. (See reports from the other hearings on the website of Catskill Mountainkeeper.)

Many speakers and audience members requested that, in
view of the more than 800 pages in the draft environmental statement
and the complex and technical nature of the proposal, DEC should extend
the public comment period from December 30, 2009 to February 28, 2010.

(Each speaker who testified at the hearing was limited
to 5 minutes. A giant hour-glass was projected onto a screen on
stage. It kept track of time to the hundredth of a second. When five
minutes were up, the screen turned red and the next speaker was called.)

The guy who had the toughest job of the night was Stu
Gruskin, the State DEC Executive Deputy Commissioner, who served as the
agency's official representative at the hearing. Stu, a genuinely nice
guy and dedicated public servant, listened dutifully to the testimony,
while taking notes on his computer.

But whether the State DEC and the Paterson
Administration will respond to the overwhelming public sentiment and
change its approach - at least without considerable additional pressure
-- is still very much an open question.

Similar to the New York-Philadelphia World Series, it
was a night filled with cheering, catcalls and controversy. But
unlike the recently concluded baseball contest, residents of both
cities could lose if their watersheds are not protected from the
multiple threats posed by industrial gas drilling in the Marcellus
Shale.