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“Environmental Disaster” Looms Behind Proposed NY Staff Cuts

April 13, 2009

Albany, NY - New York could face one of the most serious environmental disasters in its history if planned staff cuts are made at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Governor David Paterson's 8,000-job statewide belt-tightening would mean that 225 DEC staffers would lose their jobs, and New Yorkers could get contaminated water and a damaged environment as a result.

For example, hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas drilling technique that could threaten water supplies, might not be sufficiently monitored as a result of the proposed cuts. Deborah Goldberg of the organization Earthjustice says the DEC would be handcuffed by the layoffs.

"It has to do an environmental review, it's supposed to be doing site visits, it's supposed to be monitoring the process, and unless there are large numbers of staff members to do that, it will not be capable of doing what it's supposed to do under the law."

The drilling industry says the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are safe. Goldberg, managing attorney of the Northeast office of Earthjustice, disagrees, saying an "environmental disaster" is possible.

"We don't know at this point where all the waste water is going to go. We do know that much of the water and chemicals do not come back out of the ground and stay below the surface; and we don't know where that water is going to go."

Governor Paterson says the staff cuts at the DEC and other agencies are necessary to balance the budget. Goldberg says he's being "penny-wise and pound-foolish."

"The government might save some money in the short term, but in the not-too-distant future, if the drilling starts without adequate monitoring, it could have substantially greater costs that it could have avoided simply by maintaining the staff levels."

Simply put, says Goldberg, by cutting DEC staff when they are needed to oversee the potential dangers to public health and the environment, the governor is being short-sighted.

"The Department of Environmental Conservation particularly needs to retain its staff, because we know from unfortunate experience that it is far more expensive to clean up an environmental problem after it's happened than it is to prevent it from happening in the first place."

Goldberg suggests the DEC jobs be preserved by either increasing the permit fees for drillers or creating what are called severance taxes on the value of the minerals extracted from the shale in the process.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY