What the Frack is Going on? The Erie County Legislature Cheats By Peter Livingston

Was anyone else outraged by the Erie County Legislature for passing its local law banning hydrofracking on county-owned property? I know that I was. Not for the same reasons as PoliticsNY.net editor/publisher Michael Caputo, though. From his Tweets, I gather Caputo believes that Erie County’s actions will hurt job growth potential in an emerging and important industry. Although I do not entirely agree with his assessment, I certainly respect his opinion. I look forward to reading his extended commentary on this site.

The local law passed by the legislature was largely symbolic. It only affects county-owned property, which, other than buildings, is parkland. Erie County’s parklands are subject to heightened protections. Because of that, fracking will never occur on county-owned property anyway. Ever. We didn't need a law. Further, there isn’t much shale in Erie County that is locking in accessible methane, anyways.

The part of the law that bans the use of fracking fluids on county roads is also about as useful as a teat on a bull. In order to use such fluid, a municipality must apply to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for permission. No municipality in Erie County has done so or even seems inclined to do so.

The law is more of the symbolism in lieu of substance that we have grown to expect from the Erie County Legislature. Certainly, symbolism can deter investment. Would you build a business in a city that gave you the finger? Because of that, I do not entirely disagree with what I believe to be Caputo’s gripes with the law.

But I do have my own problems with the law which reaffirms my befuddlement with my elected representatives. I don't like the process used to pass this law. Well, not entirely the process. I embrace Legislator Lynn Marinelli’s query as to whether the redundant law is even necessary. She ended up voting for the unnecessary law. Since I agree it is unnecessary and redundant, no harm no foul I suppose.

I also agree with Legislator Lorigo’s concern that the law was passed in a way that violates the law. He didn’t vote for the law. A ban on hydrofracking requires a State Environmental Quality Review before passage of the law. No such review was conducted before this law was passed. The authors of the law, Legislator Betty Jean Grant and Legislator Timothy Hogues, claim the ban on fracking is not a ban on fracking. It is a moratorium. This must have come as quite a shock to all of the people who waved their "ban fracking" signs at the public hearing. It may have even shocked Grant, whose face has been seen on many a news station demanding that Erie County ban fracking. It may also confuse anyone who reads the title of the law, which states that it is a law "banning hydrofracking." Or those people who look for the word "moratorium" in the text of the law - it's not there.

I wonder if the authors of "if you like your plan, you can keep it" have been secretly working for the Erie County Legislature in their spare time.

As usual, I digress. I have a complaint with the process used to pass this redundant and illegally passed law. The law was rushed through with a speed seldom seen in government, except maybe when the friends and family line opens up on patronage day at the county personnel office.

The law was introduced on the afternoon before Thanksgiving, leaving most legislators to find out about it on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The public hearing was held the next afternoon. In other words, the public hearing on the law was held on the day after the first full business day following when most people had notice of the law. Not much time for a legislator, let alone the general public or an industry representative, to prepare - unless you were a member of the general public working behind the scenes with the legislators preparing the law. Fracking opponents knew long before the public.

Pretty much all local laws considered by the Erie County Legislature go to committee for discussion. Check out their current agenda; you will see a law languishing there since 2012. On the first day the fracking ban appeared on the agenda, it was passed. No discussion in committee. No scientific experts to discuss the law. No time for legislators to ask questions or hear answers.

Could it be that the authors are also highly qualified scientists? I’ll save you the time: they are not. The next time you see Grant, ask her the specific gravity of toluene. (If you’re reading this, Betty Jean, it’s 0.865, but you probably knew that.) Then ask her why that matters. (Sorry Betty Jean, you’ll have to look that one up yourself.)

Why was this law rushed through the legislature with such celerity? I suggest looking to the authors, legislators Hogues and Grant. Hogues’ time in the Erie County Legislature is drawing to a close. The “quack, quack, quack” of this lame duck legislator is growing fainter. For Hogues, passing this unnecessary law is one more accomplishment for his scrapbook before turning the page to his next chapter in life.

I wish Hogues well. By all accounts, he seems like a very nice and genuinely caring young man. Except he doesn't care about science, apparently.

And now, Grant is trying to parlay the hydrofracking issue into an issue she can use to run against New York State Senator Tim Kennedy in November. She does not care about hydrofracking and its impact on the environment. If so, she would have proposed a law that actually did something. Nor does she care about her colleagues in the legislature. If so, she would have followed a process that would have resulted in a valid law with all viewpoints heard.

Is it asking too much to expect our elected officials to research an issue before making a decision?  When I think of people who truly care about the environment - and even Grant’s colleagues in the legislature - I am reminded of the last words spoken on stage by Johnny Rotten, frontman for the Sex Pistols – “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

I know I do.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com.

Home | About Us | Advertise | Privacy Policy | Contact