Speaking for the first time after the state released its latest report on hydrofracking, Department of Environmental Commissioner Joseph Martens defended the department’s decision to move forward with proposed regulations and an Environmental Impact Statement at the same time, despite claims from conservation groups that it is fast-tracking the process.
The DEC last week said it would put out a set of proposed regulations in October that when finalized would govern high-volume hydrofracking in New York, and that a comment period on the document would run in tandem with one on the department’s Environmental Impact Statement.
The regulations will include the recommendations made in the impact statement, which the DEC has been developing for three years. From an enforcement standpoint, formal regulations have more teeth than the impact statement, holding the same force as state law.
Martens said holding the comment period concurrently increases efficiency, and said the regulations are being developed specifically because the environmental groups asked for them.
“By doing them concurrently, we’re making the process a lot more efficient, and that’s not a buzz word for we’re short-circuiting anything,” Martens said. “It was the environmental community that asked us to do regulations, which haven’t been proposed in the past and we’re now proposing them. So this was in direct response to a request from the environmental community.”
In a Gannett story last weekend, Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said she’s glad to see the DEC moving forward with regulations, but believes that shouldn’t start until the agency finalizes its environmental review, which is expected to happen next year.
“We think that’s a bad decision,” Esposito said. “It’s designed to speed up the process, not make it a better process, and that’s what troubles us.”
Martens, however, said there’s no reason the comment periods can’t be held at the same time and represents a more effective use of the department’s resources. A set of four public hearings will be held in November, with testimony being heard for both documents at each hearing.
“I don’t know of specific instances where this has been done, but it certainly seems to make sense and I haven’t really heard a good rationale for not doing them concurrently,” Martens said. “It’s not as if we’re boxing ourselves in.”
Here’s video of Martens addressing reporters after an Albany radio appearance: