By Karen DeWitt, New York State Public Radio Capital Bureau Chief
Actor Debra Winger and "Gasland" filmmaker Josh Fox were among hundreds of anti-fracking protesters who descended upon the State Capitol Monday, in one of the largest demonstrations against the natural gas drilling process so far.
Hundreds of protesters, many holding signs directed against Governor Cuomo, came to the Capitol to chant, march and hear speeches from leaders of the anti-fracking movement. They implored the governor to drop his administration’s on- going approval process for hydrofracking. The rally included celebrities committed to the cause, like actor Debra Winger, who has a house in Sullivan County. Winger says she no longer believes the gas companies claim that fracking is safe, and says it’s too toxic and potentially polluting to be allowed in New York.
“Getting to it is filthy,” Winger said.Winger is an executive producer of the anti-fracking film “Gasland,” and its director Josh Fox also spoke to the crowd. Fox says the state needs to continue what he calls the first moratorium on fracking in the world.
“We need to keep this going,” Fox said.
Many state lawmakers also spoke against fracking. Most were Democrats, but one, Senator Greg Ball, is a conservative Republican. Ball, from the Hudson Valley, says he initially was open to fracking, but became increasingly concerned the more that he heard about potential harm it could cause. He urged the demonstrators to help him convince his Republican Senate colleagues to oppose fracking.
“We’re going to have Republican Senators five years from now, they’re going to wish to hell they hadn’t laid out that red carpet,” Ball said. “To this industry that will not hold itself accountable.”
The Cuomo Administration is currently reviewing over 40,000 comments submitted by the public about a draft environmental impact study on the effects of fracking on New York.
An advisory committee has been tasked with coming up with a fee structure to reap revenues from the industry and to pay for staff at the Department of Environmental Conservation to regulate the hydro fracking. Rob Moore, with Environmental Advocates is on the panel, along with industry representatives and legislators. Moore says the panel is far behind schedule, and that state officials have not answered key questions like effects on public health and the impacts of the industry on rural communities.
“The state simply isn’t prepared,” said Moore. “To allow hydro fracking to go forward.”
The demonstrators, chanting “Cuomo, end fracking now” then delivered loaves of bread to Cuomo’s offices at the Capitol that they say represent the harvest from farmers across upstate New York who are opposed to fracking. The doors to the hall which houses Cuomo’s suite of offices were closed and locked as the protesters arrived, but an aid to the governor came out to accept the bread.
Julia Walsh of Frack Action, says while the groups are focusing their anger at Cuomo, that would quickly turn to praise if he were to act to ban fracking.
“We will have his back,” said Walsh.
Governor Cuomo did not speak to the group. Although the State Department of Environmental Conservation continues to move along with its evaluation of fracking, the governor has said repeatedly that he won’t go ahead with the gas drilling until all the facts are known.