Gov. Cuomo’s Nomination to Head the NY DEC: Will the Real Joe Martens Please Stand Up?

Joe MartensOn January 4, newly inaugurated Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Joe Martens to head up the all-important (to Marcellus Shale drilling in NY anyway), State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The DEC is charged with drafting drilling regulations, and once in place, overseeing those regulations. Joe Martens’ nomination to head the DEC was viewed by most who support drilling as a bad omen. Why? Let’s take a look at who Joe Martens is, and what he has said on the topic of shale gas drilling in New York.

Since 1995 Joe has worked for the Open Space Institute (OSI), first as executive vice president and later as its president. The OSI buys private land in states along the East Coast of the U.S. to keep it from being developed. As it’s name implies, it wants to keep large tracts of open spaces undeveloped and pristine. Over 100,000 acres in New York State alone have been “protected” by the OSI. Most of the OSI’s land acquisitions and easements (laws to protect land they don’t actually buy but control) have come under Joe Martens’ reign as president.

Hard to argue with preserving some open spaces here and there. Who doesn’t love a federal, state or even county park? But we get an insight into some of Joe’s outlook and motivation from the OSI website (which we take as a direct reflection of Mr. Marten’s philosophy since he’s their driving force). Although the site is careful and guarded with their language, we see glimpses of what motivates, including this:

According to the Brookings Institute, we are losing our land at a rate of two million acres of forests, farms and open spaces each year. It is being transformed into subdivisions linked by highways that are lined with shopping malls, and some of the resulting casualties are compromised air and water quality, along with loss of animal habitat and places for the human spirit to renew itself.

Facing these challenges, the Open Space Institute is working harder than ever to protect the landscape, knowing that when it comes to land conservation it is now or never.(1)

Yes, got to limit those nasty subdivisions and shopping malls. We might inadvertently kill a snail darter. (Full disclosure: This MDN article is being written from a subdivision.)

But how about Joe Martens himself? What does he think about drilling in the Marcellus Shale? Here’s a few excerpts from a speech he delivered in 2010 at Union College on the 40th anniversary of the DEC:

This morning you heard about drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Of all the daunting environmental challenges that DEC has faced during the past 40 years—criteria pollutants, hazardous waste, acid rain, even climate change—hydrofracking in the Marcellus may be the most difficult and daunting of them all.

If nothing else, it seems to me, the Department should go slow. The tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon operation in the Gulf clearly demonstrated that the unexpected can and will happen. It is also clear that the gas industry has not been as candid as it should have been with regards to the potential for problems. That suggests to me that our fate—and the need to separate objective science and environmental assessment from industry rhetoric—is in DEC’s hands, and the stakes could not be higher.

I see no reason to rush to judgment on a decision as monumental as hydrofracking in the Marcellus.

The EPA has initiated a $1.9 million, two-year study of the impact of hydrofracking on health and the environment. What’s the downside of waiting for the results?

Although no energy source is perfect or without problems, shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to reduce energy consumption and do everything possible to increase the use of renewable resources before we make a major decision to exploit the Marcellus Shale and possibly damage, perhaps irreparably, the land, air and water resources that sustain life itself?(2)

So the Joe of 2010 said, in essence, turn down your thermostats, drive lawnmowers for cars, take fewer trips, be sure to swap out those light bulbs for the new curly ones, slap some solar panels on your house—then we’ll talk about drilling. And only after the EPA gets done reviewing hydraulic fracturing in two years’ time. The Joe Martens of 2010 is an unabashed environmental extremist.

But how about now? The Joe Martens who’s been nominated to head the DEC now sings a different tune:

[He] suggested before a legislative budget committee that the state won’t wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to release its study on “hydrofracking.”(3)

You can see Joe talking about about his tune change (and he talks about that speech last year at Union College) in the video interview below which occurred just after his recent testimony before the state legislative committee.

MDN’s question: Will the real Joe Martens please stand up? If it walks and quacks like an environmentally protected wetlands migratory fowl, what do you think it is? Landowners in New York have reason to be concerned about the future of drilling in the state with Joe Martens as director of the DEC.

(1) Open Space Institute – Features – Strategic Plan
(2) Open Space Institute – Considering the Risks Surrounding Hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale
(3) Democrat and Chronicle (Feb 9) – New York continues cautious approach to gas drilling