In a visit to Western NY to complete the 4th signing of the property tax cap law, Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed the statement made by DEC Commissioner Joe Martens last week, saying the following about the draft SGEIS (as reported by the Times Union):

“I think the report goes a long way toward balancing the economic needs of New York – we need to generate jobs, grow the economy — with the need to protect the environment”

The question remains how the Governor arrived at the “economic needs” side of his equation.  There is, as was announced by Commissioner Martens, a socio-economic impact study being completed by consultants for inclusion in the draft SGEIS…. however, that study is as yet not completed by the consultants retained to do it.  So, one wonders how, exactly, the Commissioner and the Governor can assert that a balance has been reached, if they as yet do not know the results of the official study?

Perhaps, you would think, the Empire State Development Corporation, the official economic development agency of the administration, conducted some research into the matter?  No, you would be wrong if you concluded that.  On the radio program Capitol Pressroom recently, ESD head Ken Adams, when asked if the agency would conduct any investigations into possible impacts of development of the gas industry on other economic sectors, indicated that he saw no reason to do so.  He referenced the socio-economic impact study being prepared by the consultants to the DEC, and said explicitly that he believed no further study would be necessary.  This writer made inquiries for clarification to the ESD public relations office, and was told to contact the DEC for any further information on the topic.

So, the agency charged with developing the Shale Gas industry, through its Minerals Division, is the same agency that establishes the environmental impacts that the process may generate, is the same agency that assesses the expected economic impact of the proposed development.  That is a lot of roles for one agency to shoulder.

However, it may be that the DEC has retained a qualified consultant, with great expertise in the preparation of economic impact studies, to carefully calculate the proper “balance.”  Having obtained the name of said contractor from Emily DeSantis of the DEC press office, I tested that hypothesis in a number of ways.  First, I looked at their website.  Neither their name, “Ecology and Environment,” nor their tagline, “Global Environmental Specialists,” indicated a core competency in economic impact analysis.    I also checked by entering “economic” in their site search engine,  which returned as a top result an air quality evaluation and health study in Kuwait.  “Economic impact study,” as keyword string returned as a top result  a sustainability and LEED feasibility study conducted for Morgan Stanley on a couple of buildings they wanted to construct in NYC.

Finally, as I was finding no indication of consulting work that focused on economic impacts primarily, I called their Marketing Department and inquired about whether a group I am involved with might consider them for conducting an economic impact study of the effect of our industry on employment and value-added in New York State.  Their marketing director very nicely told me that was not the type of work that they most frequently did, but that they have 85 disciplines represented in their international firm, and that she could check for me to see if there might be a consultant appropriate for that type of study.  When I asked if they had economists among those 85 disciplines, she said she was not sure, but would find out and get back to me if they did.  She did not call back.

How, exactly, did DEC pick these particular contractors to do this work?  That remains something of a mystery.  However, it is notable that Governor Cuomo’s picks to lead his economic development efforts have been something of a mystery all around.  The Lieutenant Governor, Bob Duffy, was tapped some time ago to head up Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Councils, which were to completely revamp the way in which State economic development assistance was handled.  His background, prior to being Mayor of Rochester, was in Law Enforcement.  Cuomo’s most recent tap for a top Economic Development post was sitting Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who was the Majority Whip, but did not sit on the Economic Development Committee. News analysts opine that the appointment may have had more to do with Hoyt’s early backing of Cuomo for Governor in his primary race against Carl McCall, or his 2008 admission that he had an affair with an Assembly intern, or intra-party squabbles between Hoyt and the Erie County Democratic Chair. No mention of actual credentials for the work at Empire State Development appear in news coverage of the appointment.

When asked this week, in Suburban Buffalo, what Sam Hoyt’s credentials were to take a position in Empire State Development, Governor Cuomo said:

“I appointed Sam Hoyt to work on the number one priority for my administration and western New York…Jobs jobs jobs. It’s all about economic development, it’s about creating jobs.”

“He’s going to play an important and a vital role,” Cuomo added.

Indeed, perhaps the key to qualifying for a leadership role in the Cuomo administration in the economic development arena is hailing from Western NY– as do Hoyt and Duffy…. and, consultants “Ecology and Environment.”

Meanwhile, a growing number of business and trade associations are raising serious questions about whether or not hydrofracking will destroy more jobs in other industries than it creates.  Those groups are not sure where in State Government they can turn to get an honest and expert answer to that important question.