The following open letter to Gov. Cuomo is written by attorney Christopher Denton from Elmira, NY.
An Open Letter to the Governor of the State of New York
Dear Governor Cuomo:
At the time of your election New York State was the laughing stock of the country, a poster child for dysfunction, incompetence, and corruption. One governor resigned in disgrace. His successor, a man of good intentions but without real executive experience, failed to lead. The budget was a standing joke and the foxes ran the hen house. Nothing was “getting done”. The legislature acted like a rewrite of Lord of the Flies, and the Press felt that every day they won the lottery. All this was fodder for the entertainment industry, who had a field day with all the free material for their scripts.
In all this time the farmers (the owners of the oil and gas) in upstate New York State took it on the chin without any complaints, organized themselves into landowner groups, educated and trained themselves, asked not for a single handout, and weathered storms of oil and gas politics while struggling to survive this Second Great Depression. Yet in all of this, these families persisted, worked the land, and scrimped to pay their taxes and their mortgages.
The landowner leases, which initially were rejected by the oil and gas companies, included base line testing of all water, complete disclosure of all chemicals used on site (including fracking chemicals), closed loop drilling, no open pits, no onsite disposal of wastes, spill management plans, storm runoff plans, and detailed restoration and reclamation requirements supported by a bond. These requirements did not exist in the regulations; they now appear in the Draft SGEIS. The landowner coalitions by refusing to lease under environmental terms which did not protect their land and by refusing to lease under economic terms which did not reflect the true value of their resources, have kept over 800,000 acres from being leased. Without a lease there is no drilling or fracking. In areas where there are no coalitions, nearly whole counties have been leased. The coalitions have kept large parts of upstate from becoming a subsidiary of the oil and gas industry.
The irony is that for this self-reliant character, that for this sense of responsibility, and that for this sense of community, the farmers and landowners are not respected by the environmentalists, the oil and gas companies, or the executive branch of New York State. The environmentalists want to prevent all development of the farmers’ oil and gas, the oil and gas industry wants the oil and gas cheap without protections, and the executive branch wants to wait until elections, again.
The executive branch, by refusing to set deadlines, risks the consequences of Parkinson’s law: that work expands to meet the time allotted, especially in a bureaucracy. The consequences are manifold: important questions are never answered; important decisions are never made; a culture of procrastination triumphs; and leadership and confidence in our leaders can irrevocably break down, returning New York to its former dysfunctional state.
However, for the landowners, there is a greater and more invidious consequence – that the governor does not see that the farmers are in fact the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. If the regulations are delayed too long, the patience and fortitude of the farmers will not be enough, and the economics of foreclosure and bankruptcy will assume control. At that point the coalitions will begin to unravel, and the oil and gas companies will achieve their goal of signing desperate farmers at cheap rates and without environmental protections in the leases. The leases will be long enough to allow the companies to out wait the environmentalists and the politicians.
At that point the culture of upstate will be governed by industry officials of out-of-state oil and gas companies. The profits of oil and gas will exit the state instead of remaining within it as bonuses and good paying royalties. All 800,000 acres currently protected and loved by landowners and which are unleased will become leased at rates and terms which do not benefit New York as a whole and the farmers and landowners will have been marginalized, all because New York failed at leadership, again.
Leadership means making hard decisions, timely setting down fair rules, and then abiding by them. Leadership and certainty in the rules are all that the coalitions require of the executive branch.
By setting a real deadline, the governor can issue final regulations, preserve the culture of upstate New York, prevent farmers and landowners from being swallowed by the Second Great Depression, and rebuild the economy of New York State.
Christopher Denton, Esq.
Co-Founder of the Landowner Coalition Movement in New York State