Environmental groups condemn fracking, oil trains on Earth Day Lobby Day

Karen DeWitt
May 6, 2014

Environmental activists say they will continue to focus on the threat of hydrofracking in New York and will also keep working on regulations for oil transport trains passing through New York.

Activists gathered at the Capitol to lobby for environmental issues and to hear musicians David Bernz and Dan Einbender pay tribute to Pete Seeger, who passed away in January. In recent years, Seeger had appeared at the Capitol to protest against hydrofracking, which has been on hold in New York. Bernz says when Seeger performed just last year at a Farm Aid event, he added something new to the Woody Guthrie standard, the verse “New York was made to be frack free."

The controversy over the natural gas drilling process has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room for other environmental issues for the past few years, as Governor Cuomo and his top commissioners continue to deliberate over whether to allow fracking in New York. Currently, there’s an ongoing review conducted by the health department.

Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, who recently formed the non-partisan Caucus of Environmental Legislators says there are other issues of concern as well.

“Fracking is a tremendously important issue and I think it’s a singular achievement that New York State has managed to be thoughtful and careful about that in a way that many other state haven’t,” Kavanagh said. “But we have huge issues related to climate change.”

He says laws regulating toxic chemicals in consumer products  have not been updated since the 1970s. And he says the state’s Brownfields Act, which helps recover polluted and abandoned factory sites, needs renewal.

There’s also concern over the increased oil tanker trains rolling through upstate New York and ending at the Port of Albany and the potential danger of explosions. Assemblyman Kavanagh says the rapid increase in the number of oil tank cars is a sign of what he sees as a larger problem, the inability to wean ourselves from fossil fuels.

“We’re using more and more aggressive efforts to extract, to transport and to burn those fuels,” Kavanagh said.

Earth Day also coincided with Adirondack Day at the Capitol, and a display that included live owls. Katherine Murphy, with Adirondack wildlife, says the short eared owl that perched on her falconer’s glove is in decline, because unlike barn owls, it can only nest in grass lands.

She says the best way to help preserve owls and other birds of prey, though, is to refrain from using pesticides to kill mice, rats and other rodents.

“It’s horrible,” said Murphy, who says the anti-coagulants also are “lethal” to birds that eat the poisoned rodents.

Assemblyman Kavanagh and other environmental advocates say they hope next year, state lawmakers will approve an environmental bond act, to generate more funding, and focus attention on environmental issues.