Every year, I take what’s left of my family’s Thanksgiving turkey and make soup. The wishbone always floats to the top of the pot—and I superstitiously save it for when I have an important wish to make. Lately it seems like the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) might be using wishbones to determine next steps on gas development.
On November 29, the agency faced being legally required to re-open the public hearing process for the environmental review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing that’s been underway for four years. They wished to avoid that, so filed a 90-day extension, ostensibly to give more time for a panel appointed by the Department of Health to complete a health impacts analysis. But at the same time, DEC wished to move the development of new gas regulations along, so issued them on the same day.
Left holding the short end of the bone, Earthworks and its partners with the New York Water Rangers cried foul over issuing regulations—which are supposed to help protect health—before health impacts are fully analyzed. DEC’s claim that the final rules will be based on full information on health impacts seems like wishful thinking—especially when the public, advocates, and outside experts (including many knowledgeable and concerned health professionals) will only be given 30 days to comment on the regulations and continue to be left in the dark about what the health panel is even investigating.
As Earthworks concluded in a recent report on health impacts, Gas Patch Roulette, policymakers and regulators aren’t basing decisions about gas development on science or caution, despite how much is at stake for communities and the environment. DEC’s veiled and unpredictable rulemaking process is the latest example. Hopefully as Christmas approaches, the agency will look beyond Santa for the gift of sound decisionmaking.