Starting today, 12/12/12, the DEC will be accepting comments on their recently-released updated draft regulations for hydraulic fracturing.  The original draft regulations were released over a year ago, and the law stipulates that if the final regulations are not put into place within a year, a new public comment period must be initiated.

Advocates for stringent environmental and health reviews had hoped that the DEC would simply allow the rulemaking period to expire, and start the process of crafting regulations over again at some time after the draft SGEIS was finalized, including the recently- commissioned health review being completed by Dr. Shah, Commissioner of Health, and 3 outside experts. That would allow the regulations to be formulated based upon environmental threats and mitigation measures identified in the environmental review.  Instead, the DEC chose to request a 90-day extension of the rulemaking process. It scheduled a mandatory 30-day public comment period over the busiest part of the holiday season, and will attempt to finish up the process of issuing final regulations on hydraulic fracturing in February, concurrent with the anticipated release of the SGEIS.  In other words, the regulations will appear in final form at the same time as the environmental review.  Many see this as a rush to permit the controversial drilling, and view the timing of the public comment period as engineered to suppress public involvement.

A number of organized efforts to encourage the public to comment on the regulations have been launched.  34 groups have banded together to create a site, “30 Days of Fracking Regs” which guides would-be commenters through the regulatory documents point by point, day by day, throughout the entire comment period, which ends Jan. 11, 2013.  Another approach is Chip Northrup’s guide-in-a-linked-blog-post.  Chip has also made a repository of information about the regs in this wiki.

It is also possible to go directly to the DEC page on the regulations and read them unguided, and then submit comments via a web form.  Written comments can also be submitted to the DEC by mail at:

Attn: Draft HVHF Regulations Comments
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-6510

Meanwhile, the contours of the “Health Impact Review” of the SGEIS remain out of public review. It has been learned from examination of contracts that the 3 academic experts named to assist Dr. Shah in completing the “review” have been allocated relatively short amounts of time for the task.

The balance of political power remains volatile in NYS, with the precise make-up of the NYS Senate still undetermined (some races are not yet settled), and, most recently, Democratic Senate Conference leader Senator Sampson offering to step down as leader rather than jeopardize the unity of the Democrats in the body.  Of course, the Independent Democratic Caucus has already announced a power-sharing agreement that those 5 Democratic Senators crafted with the Republican leadership.  Which bills from last session, and/or which new bills about fracking that are introduced this coming session, will move in the new Senate, possibly under bi-partisan control?  It remains extremely difficult to know, although none of the Independent Democratic Caucus members have been particularly outspoken about the issue.  Much will depend upon which Senator is named Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee, through which legislation on this issue would pass.  If the current Chair, Senator Mark Grisanti, retains that position, it could be very difficult to bring legislation to the Senate floor.

This much uncertainty about the political situation is unusual, but, some uncertainty is the norm in this part of the legislative calendar– before the new session begins with the Governor’s State of the State speech, and the Senate and Assembly meeting to set the session’s rules, dole out committee assignments and chair positions, and begin deliberating on bills.  Everything will, to a certain extent, start over when the Governor makes public his agenda for the year in his speech on 1/9/13.  Those opposed to fracking in NYS plan to be there, to remind the Governor and the legislature that fracking is still one of the most contentious issues to be addressed.

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