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Ruben Diaz Sr

The Empire

Hydrofracking opposition isn't unanimous among downstate pols

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will hold its final public meeting on hydraulic fracturing tomorrow in Lower Manhattan. It'll be the last chance proponents and detractors of the natural gas extraction process have to go on the record before the state agency puts out its drilling regulations.

While it's uncertain when DEC will actually get around to doing that, one thing is for sure: downstate elected officials have been some of the biggest advocates for postponing or outright banning the process in New York State.

Tomorrow's meeting will be a testament to how well the message of urgency over potential ecological disaster has been retained by New York City residents, a quarter of whom have regularly admitted to not be paying attention to the issue. But not every downstate politician is committed to the anti-fracking cause.

"I'm not convinced one way or another," Bronx Democratic State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr. said over the phone earlier today. "On one hand we need fuel. We need to be sure that we become independent. That's one issue that I'm considering. On the other hand people are saying the water could become contaminated. So I'm debating."

After elaborating a bit further, the Senator sounded more like a proponent of the drilling process than not, saying his inclination was towards the independent fuel argument. "We've got to find a way to be independent," he said.

Diaz is no stranger to iconoclastic positions inside the liberal Democratic conference. But a key Senate vote on the other side of the aisle made it clear he, too, was looking for a safe way to support the practice.

"Hydrofracking, if it can be proven to be done safely, is something the state should be doing," Republican State Senator Martin Golden said when reached by phone. Golden had previously missed the big vote on extending the moratorium back in August. Since then he's indicated his support for the measure, saying that "it actually doesn't affect the city of New York" because of measures put in place to protect the New York City watershed.

On the Assembly side dissent has been few and far between. Of all the votes cast on June 6th to extend a moratorium on drilling, only members of the New York City delegation voted against the extension: Democrat Dov Hikind and Republican Lou Tobacco. Neither could be reached by publication time to see if they remained committed to giving hydrofracking a chance.

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