Fracked up Logic

As we’ve written, New York is considering allowing fracking in limited areas of the state, despite the environmental and economic damage that comes with the practice. In the latest development, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens dismissed calls for an independent analysis of the health impacts of fracking, employing some fracked up logic to justify his decision. Martens decisions seems to be based on two claims:

  • There was a high probability of litigation following the conclusion of the Department’s process if public health advocates did not agree with the outcome.
  • Government can be the only true independent reviewer and there could never be certainty that there were no conflict of interests with outside consultants.

Where to begin? First of all, if DEC followed all the proper procedures and practices, even if litigation was brought, the agency would win. Martens mentions the threat of litigation twice in his statement, which makes me wonder what there is to hide. According to a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Working Group, the DEC is allegedly already hiding something by not handing over all the public records generated in discussions with gas-drilling representatives. So yes, if the DEC intends to keep public records from the public during their health impacts study, they should be sued and they should lose. This result can be avoided, of course, by not hiding public documents.

As for whether or not Government can be the only independent reviewer, that assertion is patently false. Government agencies have a long history of using independent reviewers, including during the Love Canal disaster. Not to mention that evidence surfaced that DEC was working far closer with the fracking industry than environmental advocates when it drew up its preliminary fracking plan, which indicates that of any agency, DEC needs to employ an independent review. I can see how Martens would be concerned about conflict of interest, as he doesn’t seem to understand the concept if DEC thinks it’s appropriate to let the fracking industry unduly influence the rules that are meant to regulate it.

Martens' solution is to have the state’s Department of Health assess DEC’s health impact analysis. As part of the review, Martens asked the Health Commissioner to identify, “the most qualified outside experts to advise him in his review.” So, the Department of Health can identify independent experts that are ostensibly free of conflicts of interest and bias, but DEC cannot? If so, why doesn’t Martens just have the Health Commissioner appoint the independent reviewers? And, if Martens is unable to spot conflicts of interests is he really qualified to head the state’s top environmental agency?

Martens closes his statement with,

While I am sure these actions will not satisfy all parties, I do believe it will result in the most thorough review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the nation, regardless of the final decision.

In other words, Martens claims that a non-independent, non-comprehensive review of fracking’s impact on health (which by the way is the process most likely to please the industry) will be the most thorough in the nation. You have to employ some fracked up logic to convince yourself that statement is true.

 

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