Each year, New York State’s Legislature convenes in early January to hear the Governor give his State of the State speech, in which the Governor outlines his legislative agenda for the coming session.  While much positioning takes place in the weeks prior to the official beginning of Albany’s New Year, nothing is official until the Governor speaks– then it all gets underway quickly.

This year, there is an Assembly hearing scheduled to gather testimony on the hydrofracking regulations promulgated by the DEC, scheduled for the day following the Governor’s speech, Thursday 1/10/13.  There has even been a bit of saber-rattling in advance of the speech on the subject: the Chairs of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee and Health Committee, as well as the Administrative Regulation Review Commission Chair, have issued a letter to Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens and Health Commissioner Nirav Shah.  It calls on the administration to suspend the current public comment period (which ends on Friday, 1/11/13).  The reason for this, they state, is that the public has not had access to the studies, reports and other documents and data that have served as the basis of the proposed regulations.  To quote:

 If the public is to provide meaningful comment on the proposed regulations, the public should be able to see the studies and analysis that were produced at public expense.

We have expressed this call in a letter to Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens and Health Commissioner Nirav Shah. We will press these issues at the public hearing we are holding in Albany on Thursday, January 10.

The ongoing concern that the review of human health impacts is insufficient continues to be voiced by fracking opponents, as well as the concern that fracking will add to climate change problems.  Some legislators are sympathetic to these views.  As regards health issues, the recently adopted policy of the American Public Health Association, “The Environmental and Occupational Health Impacts of High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing of Unconventional Gas Reserves,” which suggest the use of the precautionary principle, doubtless hold some weight.

The balance of power in the NYS Senate is still unclear– while the Republicans hold the leadership, they have agreed to share it with the small Independent Democratic Caucus. Additionally, court challenges remain outstanding regarding the vote count in one race, although Republican Senator Amedore is prepared to take the seat in the session, based on the outcome of the lower court regarding which votes in the race would and would not count.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the ever-increasing number of towns in NYS enacting local bans and moratoria are stymieing gas development in the state, even if, as expected, the final sGEIS and the final regulations are issued in late February, as is the current plan. Although, despite industry complaints about home rule, it is not clear if it is the possibility of zoning drilling out of towns, or the record low prices for gas due to a production-induced market glut, that make companies less bullish than they were a couple of years ago on drilling in NYS:

Beyond those constraints, natural gas prices have declined sharply in recent years, limiting potential profits even as technology opens the way for the exploitation of vast shale gas resources.

The most recent map of local laws (and movements to enact local laws) limiting the areas where the industry can operate is here:

Elected officials from many of these towns, as well as others, have protested the short 30-day comment period offered on the regulations.  The move, which was initiated as the holiday season got underway, had too little advance notice for most municipalities to offer comments on the regulations, while still complying with noticing requirements under the Open Meetings Law. The Elected Officials to Protect NY called on the Governor to extend the comment period on the regulations.  Even as they did so, environmental groups are continuing to urge individuals and businesses to make multiple comments on the regulations, through such sites as Thirty Days of Fracking Regs.

And, some “expert” has leaked the Department of Health’s appraisal of the health risks of fracking to the New York Times, out of a concern that the public has a right to see it.  The DEC, however, says the document leaked is out of date.

All the political players are in their opening positions.   The Governor’s speech is being celebrated by busloads of demonstrators rallying in Albany.  The games are begun for the new year, starting tomorrow.