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Anti-hydrofracking Advocates Rally at State Capitol
By Karen Dewitt
Albany, NY – Folksinger Pete Seeger and actor Mark Ruffalo were among those who traveled to the State Capitol Tuesday to speak out against hydrofracking. A bill to place a moratorium on the natural gas extraction is just one item on a lengthy to do list for the legislature, which adjourned earlier this month without acting on a number of key items.
The Senate chambers, which have been dark and empty for days, were briefly lit up as opponents of hydro fracking came to the Capitol to lobby for a bill to impose an eleven month moratorium in New York on the gas extracting process.
The anti-hydrofracking activists brought out the big guns, folksinger Pete Seeger wrote a song for the occasion, saying "drill baby drill', has turned into "spill baby spill".
Actor Mark Ruffalo, who lives in Sullivan County in the Hudson Valley, held up a jar of dirty water that he said came from a contaminated well, ruined by hydro fracking, and urged lawmakers to return to the capitol and vote for the moratorium.
"Get off your butts and lead," Ruffalo exhorted lawmakers. "Stand up!".
Jim Smith, a lobbyist who represents the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York, says the moratorium legislation, which would expire next June, is not really needed. He says the state's Department of Environmental Conservation is carefully reviewing hydrofracking applications, and that it will likely take until next spring to issue permits anyway.
"Let's look at the product they come up with, and then have another discussion about it," said Smith.
The Senators were not present to hear either the activists or the industry's arguments. The Senate left Albany two and a half weeks ago, without completing work on a number of items, including the state budget. They have not yet approved a revenue package that would impose some new taxes on clothing and expand state sponsored gambling. Without the measure, the budget is over a billion dollars
The Assembly completed its work on the budget, including the revenue
The legislature also failed to come up with a contingency plan, in case extra federal Medicaid funds are not approved by Congress. And they let some economic development programs expire without coming up with a new plan, including Power for Jobs, which provides lower cost hydro power to businesses.
Senators, who along with Assembly members will not receive their paychecks until the budget is done, have no set time for a return to session.
Senate Leader John Sampson issued a statement backing the hydrofracking moratorium bill. He said he values "the importance of fully understanding the impact of drilling before breaking ground".