While hundreds loudly voiced their thoughts on high-volume hydraulic fracturing outside the Empire State Plaza Convention Center Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was mum on the topic inside.
Cuomo’s roughly hour-long State of the State address touched on issues ranging from economic development to educational improvements, but missing was any mention of “hydrofracking.” That issue has turned the state’s Southern Tier into a battleground for environmentalists and those pushing for the state to lift a moratorium on the natural gas drilling procedure to bring economic benefits.
While Cuomo’s comments on energy focused on helping to reduce costs and the use of low-emission and renewable energy sources, hundreds were penned in outside the address and voiced their displeasure with hydrofracking, many of them waving signs calling for a ban and some calling for Cuomo’s ouster.
The lack of a mention was not a surprise to some lawmakers or political watchers, given the governor’s silence on what decision could be made and when such a decision would come. The state Department of Health is currently studying the practice.
When pressed last month about when the studies would be completed, Cuomo said he wants the right decision, and not necessarily the fastest, to be made about what he called a complex issue. State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah said that he would withhold a recommendation until he is comfortable with the state of the science.
State Senators James Seward and Tom Libous, whose districts include parts of the Southern Tier, said they were not surprised that Cuomo left hydrofracking out of his speech, given his stance on taking as much time as needed.
“I didn’t hear it last year, and I didn’t expect to hear it this year,” said Libous, whose district includes Binghamton in the heart of the Southern Tier. “He’s been pretty matter-of-fact that he’s going to wait until Commissioner Shah does his thing.”
Cuomo also gave no hints Wednesday about when the studies might wrap up. Libous said he is hopeful that Cuomo will make a decision before this year’s election, though.
“He was in Binghamton with me a couple months ago, and he was asked by a reporter, and he said that he would make a decision before the election. I’m hoping that’s the case, whatever that decision is,” Libous said.
New York Republican State Committee Chairman Ed Cox, a frequent critic of the governor, complained about the delay and called natural gas extraction one of the most innovative industries in the country. Cox said that he believes it will take on-going legal pressure to force the state to make a decision.
Libous, who is pro-fracking, said he has not pushed Cuomo to make a decision. Still, there are some from his district who are looking for a choice sooner rather than later.
“I have constituents whose lives and families depend on some sort of decision,” he said. “After five years, it’s time to make a decision one way or the other.”