Deal or No Deal on Natural Gas for New York?
The debate over natural gas development nationwide is all about New York State and the debate in New York State is all about the Natural Resources Defense Council and its goals. Those goals are contrary to the interests of landowners and ordinary New Yorkers.
We got a fair amount of reaction to our post on Cuomo’s Choice: Blue Collars or Blue Bloods and the consolidated version in the New York Post. Kate Sinding, one of the three senior NRDC attorneys mentioned in the post, even commented, with no evidence, to assert our information was false. We ruffled some feathers for sure; as my daughter the horse-lover used to say, “the ears were back, the nose was flared.” But there’s actually much more.
What we noted in that story was the pervasive role of the NRDC leadership in fighting natural gas development in New York State because it threatens their interests in the Catskills. It’s not a new subject for us, but one that needed to be put into perspective. It appears the NRDC folks are working, at the highest levels in New York State government, to make a deal — some deal, any deal. Otherwise, there is no basis for their actions in other states, where they have actually acted with more pragmatism (comparatively speaking, of course). They are looking to protect their own interests before the state of New York acts.
What kind of deal might that be? Well, we have addressed that before as well when we wrote a post called Seven Miles to Nowhere. It would involve keeping natural gas development as far away as possible from lands they might want to acquire on the cheap — so they can buy it. Is this what’s already happening, though? There is a very strong possibility.
Kate Sinding tried dismissing our evidence of NRDC connections with New York State’s on-again, off-gain natural gas policy by calling it “a series of false and, frankly, ridiculous statements about National Resources Defense Council.” She added:
“NRDC does not support expanded fracking in New York, Illinois or any state. We oppose new fracking unless and until sufficient safeguards exist to protect against the serious health and environmental threats we’ve watched unfold.”
Notice the caveat, which equates to a non-denial. The NRDC claims it doesn’t support expanded development in Illinois, and yet it supports a regulatory bill that would allow development to move forward in that state. This is the responsible position to take, of course. But it also indicates the NRDC is carefully parsing words.
Her “ridiculous” claim also ignores the relationship of her boss, Francis Beinecke, to the Open Space Institute and the interlocking relationships of that organization to the Catskill Mountainkeeper, the Beaverkill Valley Conservancy, the Beaverkill Mountain Corporation, and the Adams and Rockefeller families. It also ignores the fact that Robert Kennedy, Jr. , Eric Goldstein, Mark Izeman and Kate (as Katherine A. Daly) are all listed as NRDC lobbyists.
Notwithstanding this web of relationships, the real issue is this: what kind of deal are they seeking in New York? They obviously want to keep natural gas development away from the Catskills and their own land acquisition activities. Everything they’re doing is oriented in that direction. Getting three of their lobbyists and several more of their friends on the state advisory committee was only a good start.
This was followed by the phony seven mile isolation request (see map below, which would just happen to rule out development in all the areas where the NRDC principals want to acquire land), the Attorney General’s pointless suit against the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the attempts to bully local communities by frivolous Freedom of Information demands and lawsuits. The NRDC’s fingerprints are on all of these actions.
Natural gas development would assist landowners in carrying their heavy New York State real property tax burdens by potentially eliminating the need to subdivide and liquidate part of their assets just to maintain what’s left of their holdings. Moreover, land with proven reserves is more valuable and more expensive for NRDC offshoots such as the Open Space Institute to acquire. They want land on the cheap, and they’d like nothing better than to destroy the ability of others to stay.
Natural gas development thus represents real estate competition. If it comes, they will have to actually compete with other uses at market value. This will interfere with their normal method of buying “distressed” properties and then, as has happened before, reselling lands to the State at very questionable appraisal values that no one other than environmental groups assigning exorbitant values to open space could ever claim.
The NRDC goal seems to be one of intimidating the Governor into a deal that preserves their special deal-making opportunities by writing off the Catskills with the flick of a pen and a seven mile line on a map. The NRDC has been gaming the system to satisfy their own real estate goals, employing their access to virtually unlimited funding from special interest groups to gin up opposition to natural gas development in New York.
One thing they have not done, however, to any great extent is litigate (their nuisance suit against the Town of Sanford being an exception). They know that once regulations are in place and the activity starts they will have to bond to get injunctive relief, and the amount of such bonding would be enormous, even for them.
Therefore, what we have is an unelected special interest sitting in a position of power within New York State government, and which is trying to sabotage the process of natural gas development in their sphere of interest, the Catskills, no matter what it takes — even if it means actively preventing working families upstate, many of whom are struggling to pay bills, from ever having even a glimmer of economic hope.
If the NRDC is successful in sacrificing the Catskills, including natural gas rich areas of Broome and Delaware Counties, they will certainly accept the deal. But will the Governor acquiesce to such craven tactics? We shall see.