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Yesterday, the New York State Assembly reconvened in Albany and ended up working late into the night to debate and vote on a time out for gas development. The bill (A. 11443B, sponsored by Assembly Member Robert Sweeney) passed by a wide 93-43 margin and suspends the issuance of permits to hydraulically fracture gas wells in New York State until May 15, 2011.

With a companion bill already passed by the State Senate in August, the moratorium will become law once it’s signed by Governor David Paterson, who stated last week that Even with the tremendous revenues that will come in we re not going to risk public safety or water quality, which will be the next emerging global problem after the energy shortage.  

The Assembly vote was the culmination of months of hard work by organizations, citizen activists, and forward-looking legislators from across New York. A broad coalition of groups heralded the news as an opportunity to closely examine the true costs of shale gas development that have plagued communities in other states before permits are issued.

There’s no time to waste in fixing critical flaws in New York’s environmental review of gas development, developing strong regulations and safeguards, and restoring resources to a decimated Department of Environmental Conservation if it is to effectively monitor the gas industry and enforce the law.

Most of all, policymakers in particular incoming Governor Andrew Cuomo must take a long, hard look at what’s happening nationwide with hydraulic fracturing, and determine whether short-term economic benefits are worth the long-term risks to water, health, and communities.With a permitting moratorium in place, New York can be a shining example of how it is in fact possible to slow down the crazed rush to drill until sanity can be ensured.

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