After Governor Andrew Cuomo abruptly canceled a campaign luncheon outside the Plaza Hotel in Midtown on Tuesday, many protestors who had organized an anti-fracking rally across the street wondered if the governor was ducking a movement that has hounded him at almost every public appearance in the last few years.
Alex Beauchamp, the Northwest director for the environmental group Food and Water Watch, said the police informed him that the luncheon was cancelled when he arrived for the rally.
“They said that the governor’s detail had just told them that they decided to cancel at the last minute. It’s unusual for the governor to cancel an event so suddenly. He’s tried to avoid the movement to ban fracking several times. So it’s certainly curious,” Beauchamp said.
The governor’s press office did not respond to an inquiry from The Indypendent about why the luncheon was called off. However, despite Cuomo’s absence, the protestors went forward with their rally and called on the governor to implement a permanent ban in New York State on the controversial shale gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
“We’re going to be out everywhere the governor goes until he does the right thing,” said Beauchamp. “We’ve been doing this for a couple of years and I think the public pressure is key to keeping fracking out of New York.”
The anti-fracking movement wants Gov. Cuomo to take a definitive position on whether to ban the practice in New York, which has a large deposit of natural gas underneath the Marcellus Shale in the southern and central regions of the state. Proponents of fracking, such as Cuomo’s Republican challenger in the upcoming general election, say that New York is losing out on opportunities for economic growth due to the state’s temporary moratorium on fracking, which has been in place for six years. However, environmental advocates say that fracking — a process that breaks apart rock formations by blasting them with a mixture of water, sand and chemicals in order to extract the natural gas underneath — causes enormous damage to the environment by polluting nearby aquifers and drinking water wells.
Environmental and anti-fracking activists in New York would like to see Cuomo sign legislation that would ban fracking permanently in the state. Last week, hundreds of anti-fracking protestors gathered outside a Cuomo fundraising event in Manhattan and scores traveled to Long Island to rally outside the state Democratic Convention in May.
“I think Governor Cuomo should be speaking up and banning fracking but instead he chose not to show up today and that’s on him and we will remember in November,” said retired postal worker and activist Joseph Sellman. “I’m disappointed in Cuomo’s non-stance on this particular issue. I want him to speak up now and stop playing politics because people’s health is at stake.”
The anti-fracking movement scored its most recent victory in the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which ruled last week that local municipal governments have the authority to ban fracking within their borders. According to the group FracTracker Alliance, 178 cities, towns and villages in New York have already banned or passed a moratorium on fracking, while only 40 municipalities passed resolutions indicating they were willing to welcome the natural gas industry.
“The court ruling is wonderful because it brings the issue to the fore and to the attention of more people,” said Food and Water Watch member Eleanor Preiss. “But I’m afraid that if Cuomo ended the moratorium, there’s enough leases in place so that I think we would be doomed. And I do worry that [Cuomo’s] goals are political and he’s going to do whatever is more politically expedient.”
The most recent Quinnipiac poll shows that New Yorkers are deeply divided on the issue of fracking; 44 percent of voters support drilling because of economic benefits while 45 percent oppose it due to environmental concerns. The poll also noted that 38 percent of voters agreed that the governor was “dragging his feet” on whether to open the state up to drilling and many of the demonstrators outside the Plaza Hotal said that Cuomo might be waiting until after the general election in November to issue a final decision.
“I think it’s disappointing that he isn’t here so that we can speak up,” said Nikita Scott, a member of the environmental group Surfrider Foundation. “But I hope that he is starting to realize that we do have a really strong movement here and maybe he’s starting to get a little bit intimidated by it. We’re going to make sure that he does stand up and make a decision on this. “
Giulia Olsson contributed reporting.
In Defense of Their Land and Water: A Photo Essay, by Michael Premo and Andrew Stern
Romanian Rendezvous, by Jim Wickens
Wind, Waves and Liquified Natural Gas, by John Tarleton
Putting It All On the (Pipe)line, by Emily Masters