With a regulatory deadline for the state’s proposed hydrofracking regulations less than a month away, state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah is staying mum on his agency’s analysis of the potential health impacts.
Shah declined to entertain any questions about the fracking review Tuesday following a news conference touting the state’s proposals to fight sepsis. Asked four times by Gannett’s Albany Bureau to discuss the review, Shah refused.
“Today’s event is about sepsis,” Shah said. “I’d like to stay on topic.”
Both Shah’s agency and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been heavily criticized by environmental and anti-fracking groups for not being more transparent about the health review, which is being aided by a trio of outside consultants who are providing their expertise.
In September, Shah was directed to complete a review of a health assessment completed by the DEC. But key details of the review — or a draft — have never been released, nor has it ever been revealed exactly what the three outside experts have been asked to analyze.
Tuesday marked the third time Shah has declined to discuss the review since it was first launched. In December, he said he’s “not going to talk about things in progress.”
Shah may not be able to keep silent for long, however. He’s scheduled to testify in front of a legislative budget hearing on Wednesday, where lawmakers will likely question him about hydrofracking despite the issue not being included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal.
UPDATE: Responding to a set of written questions I submitted Monday to the Department of Health, spokesman Bill Schwarz sent along this statement. The agency again declined to release the health review, while describing what exactly is under review using broad terms unlikely to satisfy its critics.
“Work on the Public Health Review continues. The State Health Commissioner and three external consultants are reviewing the data and information regarding potential public health impacts included in DEC’s draft SGEIS, as well as existing and proposed environmental and public health surveillance systems to determine if they are adequate to establish baseline health indicators and detect and measure potential public health effects. Once complete, the Review will be shared as part of the SGEIS process.”
Environmental Advocates of New York, which has been extremely critical of fracking, on Tuesday issued a list of questions they would like lawmakers to ask Shah. (You can read them after the jump.)
“The secrecy has gone on long enough,” the group wrote in a statement. “It is time for Commissioner Shah to come clean with the public, share the administration’s health study, and fully disclose the ideas and concerns of the national experts that DOH has contracted with, but who have been forbidden from public comment throughout this secretive process.”
The DEC, meanwhile, faces a Feb. 27 deadline to finalize its proposed fracking rules or allow them to expire. The agency would have to release an extensive environmental review at least 10 days prior to that, and has said it would not finalize its work until Shah’s analysis is complete.
Here are the questions Environmental Advocates want answered by Shah:
• Who completed the Department of Environmental Conservation’s study on the health impacts of fracking?
• What factors were considered in the preparation of this study?
• Why has the DOH refused to abide the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and not share this study with those who have requested it for more than four months?
• Why is the administration opposed to an independent health study?
• Will the administration allow the public to hear from the three national experts reviewing the study?
• Will the administration agree to release the study today?
• Will the administration pledge to allow the public ample opportunity to review and comment on the findings in the study before any final decision is made?