DEC Adopts Regulations For Power Plants

The state Department of Environmental Conservation today adopted regulations to require new or expanding power plants to evaluate the impacts on so-called environmental justice communities, which are mainly inner cities.

DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said the regulations are the first in the country to require “an environmental justice analysis” in the siting of electric generating facilities. The measure was included in the Power NY Act of 2011 that passed by the Legislature last year under the guidance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“These first-of-their-kind regulations will help populations disproportionately affected by high asthma hospitalization,” Martens said in a statement. “Under DEC’s new regulations, an environmental justice analysis must be completed if a proposed electric generating facility’s potential adverse environmental and public health impacts may affect an environmental justice area.”

The DEC also adopted new regulations to restrict carbon dioxide emissions from new facilities.

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Lawmakers, lobbyists and state regulators have hinted since April that a community's viewpoint on hydraulic fracturing could be taken into account when deciding where to drill for gas.

It has prompted a burst of municipal activity. Town boards across New York's Southern Tier have been deluged with requests from some to ban gas drilling, and from others to pass a resolution expressing support for it.

But what happens when members of the town boards own land and could stand to profit by leasing their gas rights?

Many municipal officials in small towns within the gas-rich Marcellus Shale own land, belong to a landowner coalition or have already leased their mineral rights. While several defended their right to vote on matters regarding hydrofracking, critics say they have an undeniable conflict of interest.

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Avoca board backs hydrofracking

The Avoca town board stepped out in support of hydrofracking this week.

In a 4-1 vote, the board passed a resolution Wednesday supporting the development of natural gas drilling in the town.

The resolution is designed by Clean Growth Now and the New York State Join Land Owners Coalition, and has been sent to other municipalities in the area.

Supervisor Ron Harmon said the board was confident the state DEC would develop adequate regulations for drilling, and that it was frustrating to see other parts of the state prosper as Avoca residents struggle to find work.

"The resolution that we passed is a benefit that would promote the well-being of residents in Avoca and the entire state," said Harmon.

Councilman Frank Lysyczyn cast the lone vote against the resolution, stating he believed the town should remain neutral on the drilling issue.

"We have people in the town who came to the board meeting previously who wanted us to enact a moratorium against fracking," said Lysyczyn. "We didn't do anything for them, so why should we do anything for (drilling)?"

The resolution — which the Town of Dansville passed last week — is a non-binding statement against towns spending money and time on a ban or moratorium on drilling.

After speaking with farmers and other residents in the area, Harmon said that most people seemed to have placed their trust in the DEC.

Plus, said the supervisor, if drilling is in neighboring towns but not Avoca, industry vehicles would still end up on Avoca roads.

"It's going to be here," he said. "It's the right thing to do, not trying to prohibit hydrofracking."

Avoca board members made changed some language in the resolution, giving themselves room to pass future legislation that could address hydrofracking.

Harmon, who didn't feel the alteration was needed, said board members were looking to guarantee they could pass items such as a road use agreement dealing with drilling.

The Avoca town board stepped out in support of hydrofracking this week.

In a 4-1 vote, the board passed a resolution Wednesday supporting the development of natural gas drilling in the town.

The resolution is designed by Clean Growth Now and the New York State Join Land Owners Coalition, and has been sent to other municipalities in the area.

Supervisor Ron Harmon said the board was confident the state DEC would develop adequate regulations for drilling, and that it was frustrating to see other parts of the state prosper as Avoca residents struggle to find work.

"The resolution that we passed is a benefit that would promote the well-being of residents in Avoca and the entire state," said Harmon.

Councilman Frank Lysyczyn cast the lone vote against the resolution, stating he believed the town should remain neutral on the drilling issue.

"We have people in the town who came to the board meeting previously who wanted us to enact a moratorium against fracking," said Lysyczyn. "We didn't do anything for them, so why should we do anything for (drilling)?"

The resolution — which the Town of Dansville passed last week — is a non-binding statement against towns spending money and time on a ban or moratorium on drilling.

After speaking with farmers and other residents in the area, Harmon said that most people seemed to have placed their trust in the DEC.

Plus, said the supervisor, if drilling is in neighboring towns but not Avoca, industry vehicles would still end up on Avoca roads.

"It's going to be here," he said. "It's the right thing to do, not trying to prohibit hydrofracking."

Avoca board members made changed some language in the resolution, giving themselves room to pass future legislation that could address hydrofracking.

Harmon, who didn't feel the alteration was needed, said board members were looking to guarantee they could pass items such as a road use agreement dealing with drilling.

State lawmakers are in talks over a plan to lower New York’s cap on carbon emissions, a move that would likely boost costs for coal-fired power plants and revamp the state’s participation in a regional climate-change program.

Under pressure from environmental groups, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office have discussed lowering the limit through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state cap-and-trade program in which carbon allowances are auctioned off to power producers.

That would increase the price of the credits at auction, and the added revenue to the state would partially be set aside to assist communities that see power plants close as a result, according to bill language obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau.

“One of the most serious things that has been looked at this year is adjusting the cap, and by adjusting the cap the credits themselves will regain value,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Kingston Democrat who chairs the chamber’s energy committee. “How serious it is, whether those negotiations have produced any results, that’s another question.”

Under the draft bill, the “Clean Energy and Economic Revitalization Act of 2012” would pair the greenhouse-gas cuts with hundreds of millions of dollars in long-term incentives for solar energy. The bill would also expand and clarify the state’s net-metering law, which allows consumers to produce solar power and claim credits on their energy bill.

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New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a landmark agreement with Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C. to allow over 4,400 landowners who were locked into unfavorable natural gas leases the opportunity to renegotiate with the energy corporation. Chesapeake, based in Oklahoma, is licensed to do business in New York State for natural gas exploration and extraction from lands in certain areas of the state. In addition, the Attorney General's agreement requires Chesapeake to pay the state $250,000 as reimbursement for the costs of the investigation.

"Make no mistake about it – this agreement will provide a safety net for thousands of landowners by allowing them the opportunity to negotiate fairer lease terms, both financial and environmental, regardless of their existing contracts. For landowners across the state, this deal literally will provide a new lease on life," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "My office will continue to stand up for the rights of the public in every corner of this state to ensure that New Yorkers have a fighting chance when they’re up against powerful interests.”

As part of today’s agreement with Attorney General Schneiderman, Chesapeake has agreed that landowners with leases that were extended as a result of the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) environmental review into high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," have the right to negotiate leases with other gas companies for more favorable environmental or financial terms. Chesapeake will either match those terms or release the landowners’ original lease. The agreement includes leases which have expired or will expire prior to Dec. 31, 2013.

Terms of the Attorney General's agreement with Chesapeake include:

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New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has worked out a deal with hydrofracking company Chespeake-Appalachia, where over 4400 leases that were signed several years ago by Chesapeake-Appalachia and other fracking companies, can be re-negotiated.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman maintains this will allow landowners to have contracts that will be fairer to the property owners.

Schneiderman reports that Chesapeake has agreed that landowners with leases that were extended as a result of the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) environmental review into high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," have the right to negotiate leases with other gas companies for more favorable environmental or financial terms, and that Chesapeake will either match those terms or release the landowners’ original lease. The agreement includes leases which have expired or will expire prior to December 31, 2013.

Terms of the Attorney General's agreement with Chesapeake include:

• Chesapeake will not use the Environmental Review by the DEC as a reason to extend any leases expiring after December 31, 2013;
• Chesapeake will release leases that have been extended using only the Extension of Term where a blank has been left for the negotiated factor. Some of the contracts had blanks in them where a monetary amount should have been;
• All other landowners, except those extended by an Extension of Term provision, with leases having expired, or expiring on or before December 31, 2013, have the right to negotiate bona fide offers from other companies; Chesapeake will then either match the new offer, or release their lien;
• Chesapeake will still be allowed to extend leases that have an Extension of Term provision if it does not contain any blanks and has not yet expired;
• Chesapeake will make quarterly reports to the Office of Attorney General on the number of leases it has renewed, matched and released;
• Number of Leases to be released outright: 50 (8,604 acres);
• Leases subject to being matched: 4,365 (255,579 acres); and
• Leases with the option to be extended by Chesapeake: 1,865 (96,524 acres).

According to the Attorney General’s office, most of the leases are in Broome and Tioga Counties. Officials say Chesapeake Appalachia will have to pay $250,000 for the cost of the state’s investigation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo stressed Thursday that no final decisions have been made on whether to allow gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, but wouldn’t say whether a report on a potential rollout plan was accurate.

Appearing on WGDJ-AM in Albany, Cuomo was asked about a New York Times report that said his administration was looking at a plan to initially allow hydraulic fracturing in five Southern Tier counties, and only in communities that welcome it. The plan has been in the works for a few months, according to the Times, and Lawmakers and lobbyists have been floating this possibility since April.

“The truth is normally nuanced, and I think that’s what you’re looking at with hydrofracking,” Cuomo said. “First of all, we’ve made no decision on hydrofracking, and I’ve said all along the science is going to dictate.”

Asked again by host Fred Dicker about the reported plan, Cuomo said: “I don’t have a plan, and I want to do the first step first and then I want to address the second.”

Cuomo went on to point out that the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is in the process of finalizing an extensive environmental and regulatory review of the drilling process, has not made a final determination on the technique. High-volume hydrofracking is on hold in New York until that review—which was launched in 2008—is complete.

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Supporters of hydrofracking say it's an efficient way to meet growing energy demands. But critics say the extraction of natural gas poses environmental hurdles that have not been adequately addressed.

Pennsylvania has already moved ahead with hydrofracking, but with mixed results.

"We know from Pennsylvania what the potential impact will be. If we ever allow it, we have to determine that it will be safe. And we have not determined yet that it can be done safely," said Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell.

The Cuomo administration is reportedly considering allowing fracking in certain New York counties that border Pennsylvania. They are areas where the economic recovery has been especially slow and the hope is that hydrofracking will bring jobs.

"As a supporter of environmentally safe drilling, one of the things I have said continuously is that maybe we start out in those communities that are open to it," said State Senator Tom Libous.

But democrats in the State Senate are largely opposed. With some going so far as to say hydrofracking cannot be safely regulated.

"We don't ever believe that there could ever be enough strong regulations to prevent those few accidents where the water supply of New York State is contaminated," said State Senator Tony Avella.

Protections have already been spelled out for New York City’s upstate watershed. But some believe the risks still exist.

"Well I think we want a larger border around New York City’s watershed. But the fact is that New York City residents are concerned not just about New York City water, they are concerned about the environmental impacts around the state," Assemblyman Linda Rosenthal said.

In a statement, Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said, "No final decision has been made and no decision will be made until the scientific review is complete and we have all the facts."

The Cuomo administration doesn't actually need the legislature to change regulations on fracking. Some legislators believe that if any action is taken, it will be done this summer when they are no longer up here.

This sounds like a trial balloon to me:

Cuomo Plan Would Limit Gas Drilling to a Few Counties in New York

The plan, described by a senior official at the State Department of Environmental Conservation and others with knowledge of the administration's strategy, would limit drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, at least for the next several years, in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.

Even within that southwest New York region -- primarily Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties -- drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it, and would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations in the administration are still continuing.

It sounds like convergence toward a classic Albany compromise, through the executive branch and possibly with the cooperation of the legislature. I suspect (but I'm not certain) that implementing this would also shut down the Anschutz lawsuit against the Town of Dryden and the similar landowner lawsuit against the Town of Middlefield.

I also wonder how and if this will apply to the much deeper Utica Shale - yes, it's further down, but the SGEIS didn't spend much time talking about the differences. The westernmost county mentioned here is Steuben, so I'm guessing they haven't gotten there yet. We'll see.

(Modified version of an article on Living in Dryden.)

Seven Commonwealth Court judges will decide on a constitutional challenge by seven municipalities to portions of Pennsylvania's new law regulating the rapid growth of natural gas exploration.

The panel heard arguments Wednesday during a session in which the judges repeatedly challenged lawyers from both sides in the closely watched case.

The heart of the argument is the extent of the state's power to tell municipalities where they must allow drilling-related activity. That includes rigs, waste pits, pipelines and the compressor and processing stations that help get gas to consumers.

At one point, President Judge Dan Pellegrini asked a lawyer representing the state whether municipal zoning becomes irrational if the state does for every industry what it did for the natural gas industry.

We’ve already seen the anti-hydrofracking activists join forces to form one coalition against the gas extraction process. Now, a group of municipal officials have done the same.

A letter signed by (at this moment) 283 elected officials from 34 New York counties was delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office today, according to the new coalition—Elected Officials to Protect New York.

The list of officials—ranging from town board members to supervisors to all sorts of other office holders—can be found on the group’s flashy new website.

In the letter, the officials call on New York to continue its defacto moratorium and launch three studies—one on the public health impacts, one on the cumulative impacts of hydrofracking, and one on the socioeconomic impacts.

“To earn our and the public’s confidence in the adequacy of the assessments we are seeking, all these studies must be made available for public review and comment before regulations are finalized or the moratorium is lifted,” the letter reads.

Standard background information— The state Department of Environmental Conservation is in the midst of a regulatory and environmental review of high-volume hydrofracking. It was launched in July 2008, and the technique is on hold in New York until it’s completed. (Howard Glaser, Cuomo’s director of state operations, said on a radio appearance this morning that the report is still “a couple months away” from being finalized, but declined to set a specific timeline.)

(Click to read the entire article)

Bath town officials recently endorsed gas drilling in the area, joining several other towns in Steuben County considering officially voicing their support.

Bath Town Supervisor Marcia Burns said the board approved a resolution that says moratoriums on drillings are a premature use of town funds.

The measure – drafted by the pro-drilling organizations Clean Growth Now and the New York State Joint Land Owners Coalition – also says the state Department of Environmental Conservation has spent four years updating its regulations on shale gas drilling and the process of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, and touts the safeguards the DEC plans to put in place.

Burns said economic growth in the area is an important element in future natural gas drilling.

The same non-binding resolution has also been presented to the Town of Avoca and Village of North Hornell, with both boards tabling the matter for further study.

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