Appalachian Basin

Natural Gas & New York’s Backroom Boys

Robert Poloncic of the Vestal Gas Coalition discusses the supposed back room conversations on natural gas development between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his former brother-in-law, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. 

Ask not what your state can do for you; ask what you can do for your state.  That echo from President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address contains the advice his nephew, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., should have given to Andrew Cuomo about natural gas development in New York. Sadly, this member of the family that inspired a generation to selfless national service may have convinced our governor to sacrifice upstate economic recovery to serve a misguided environmental agenda and his own political ambition.

The news that Governor Cuomo was very close to approving limited natural gas development, but then bowed to the wishes of his famous former brother-in-law, is disappointing but almost predictable. Celebrities exert far too much influence in New York’s natural gas debate. Add to that the mystique of the Kennedy name, and you have a powerful potion that apparently our wavering governor was helpless to resist.

Governor Andrew Cuomo (right), Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (left). Image from

In 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy toured the hills of Appalachia and was moved by the plight of the rural poor. Now his son has reportedly claimed credit for a decision which guarantees many more cash-poor rural landowners in New York will be driven into bankruptcy.

Robert Jr. is an environmental activist and investor in “green” businesses, not a scientist.  Governor Cuomo should listen instead to his own experienced scientists and regulators who have been assessing the safety of natural gas development for years. They have proposed very tough environmental safeguards in the thoroughly researched and reviewed SGEIS regulations. If the governor is really looking to be guided by science, his DEC has already provided it.

But under cover of a new health study by the Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania, Cuomo can appease noisy gas opponents and put off a politically difficult decision.  And, by waiting for results of a lengthy study that has yet to begin, he can delay as long as he likes. Say, until after he is safely reelected governor in 2014. He can then turn around, permit drilling and take credit for “added” safety. This flip-flop may be necessary for a northeast liberal to capture the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and win the critical swing states of Pennsylvania and Ohio, where natural gas is fueling economic recoveries. Voters there know the truth about safe shale gas development from actual experience.

The irony of Cuomo’s apparent back room conversion is as thick as the layer of solid rock overlying the rich Marcellus resource in the Southern Tier. Anti-gas advocates of direct democracy normally condemn such “behind-closed-doors” influence of the rich and powerful. “Transparency” in the natural gas decision-making process has become their mantra. Yet they applaud and rationalize this revival of New York’s infamous “three-men-in-a-room” style of governing.  Or in this case, two men; one elected, one not. Most New Yorkers clearly see through the double talk, not to mention the double standard.

If true, it’s more than unfortunate that Andrew Cuomo has backed away from a very cautious plan to slowly start much-needed natural gas development in the Southern Tier.  Similar commonsense approaches to protecting constitutional property rights as well as public health have been successfully adopted by other shale gas states without the disasters predicted by extremists.  But instead, the governor has conveniently bowed to an aristocrat with a famous name. The costly result is that New York’s wealth-laden “new frontier” just north of the Pennsylvania border may remain off limits for years to come.


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