In an exclusive interview, QP speaks with Council Member James Gennaro, Chairman of the City Council Environmental Protection Committee on his mission to save our water, thus proving that pollution does not abide by political boundaries.
Gennaro is not your ordinary Council Member, he’s also a trained geologist. What does a geologist do in the NYC Council? They offer a scientific approach to environmental public policy making. Gennaro is the Council’s point-man on environmental policy. Even though we’ve never met, I liked him immediately.
Gennaro received national acclaim in 2010 for his prominent role in Gas Land, a feature picture that examines the dangers of Hydrofracking, an issue with serious environmental consequences for the people of Queens.
Fracking, according to the Safe Water Movement is an energy and water intensive, highly toxic process whereby methane trapped in impermeable rock (shale and tight sands) is extracted from the ground by pumping chemicals into the Earth.
On September 28th, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation released Hydro-Fracking regulations, which are the rules Big Energy corporations must abide by in order to operate. Gennaro said these regulations were based on a fatally flawed draft of an Environmental Impact Statement that was completed in just three weeks and escaped public scrutiny.
According to the press release,
“In a legitimate environmental regulatory process, the environmental impact statement (EIS) – which is supposed to inform the drafting of environmental regulations – is finalized before the drafting of regulations is commenced. During the finalization process (Finalizing an EIS involves the submission of public comments to the DEC, written responses to the comments by the DEC, public hearings on the EIS by the DEC, etc.) In this case, these regulations are not only informed by a draft EIS, but an EIS that is, as stated above, a fatally-flawed document that does not come close to assessing properly the myriad of environmental issues and impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing.”
Gennaro’s Interview With QP:
Jim, I know you’re the EPC chair, but other than that, why is Hydrofracking a critical issue for you?
“[Hydrofracking] places the NYC water supply at risk,” said Gennaro who dedicated 21 years of his career to the protection of the NYC watershed and the water it produces for Queens residents.
What headway have you made so far?
“On Fracking — myself and Speaker Christie Quinn and the Bloomberg administration, I think the city has had some success in getting the state to recognize the precious nature of the water supply.” The Cuomo administration and the DEC under Cuomo placed bans on fracking in certain watersheds in Syracuse and other areas. But the battle is far from over.
According to Gennaro,
“Primary aquifers have been placed off limits to fracking. If you really want to protect you need not only the 2000 square mile watershed but also an adequate buffer with regard to the city’s critical water supply tunnels.”
Policy aside, let’s talk geology. What’s so bad about hydrofracking?
“[Hydrofracking] is an inherently environmentally problematic endeavor.
How So? Tell me more.
“This is just an activity that creates abundant contamination to water supplies but also on the surface, through truck trips, erosion, and pipelines to form a network to transport this gas to the water.” But there’s more to the damage, there is subsurface damage, said Gennaro, and a lot of air quality issues.
Who’s in charge of hydrofracking regulations? Who will save us?
“There is no federal regulation of this activity. This is an industry that can go state to state.” Energy companies seek a lax regulatory paradigm, he said.
“Although New York will be stricter in the other states to have this process. This is clearly the type of activity that cries out for federal regulation.”
Why aren’t the feds doing anything about this dangerous process?
“The federal EPA is now currently legally prohibited from regulating hydro fracking as per the 2005 energy policy act which does not allow for regulation of this activity and which is currently being studied by the EPA. They are exempt from the clean water act.”
Gennaro expressed his grief with the politics on the federal level and encourages a state solution:
“It’s an abomination. I don’t see any movement in congress to move this around, they have become more and more conservative. I don’t see any movement on the national level to regulate hydrofracking”
“Any such regs would have to pass through a pro-energy and pro-fossil fuel Republican House and they are never going to vote for this it must be fought at the state level and that’s what they’re doing.”
Gennaro thinks that the governor has said some very good things about the science but,
“there is a big disconnect between what the Governor says and what the DEC says and is doing.”
Which City Council Members from Queens are supportive of anti-fracking initiatives?
“Peter Vallone issued a statement and I think, the members of the council are very united…all the other boroughs are united. Some Council Members play a more prominent role, said Gennaro.
“There are those like myself that try to play a prominent role, [and] there are others that are generally supportive of all the time and effort the Council used to push this forward. The speaker has allocated abundant resources to press the case… [although]
“We have no control over what the state ultimately does.”
What role are you playing?
“We are playing the role of advocate. Vallone sits on the EPC he’s been active on the issue. I don’t know any members that have not been supportive of my efforts. Lord knows there’s been a lot of brain power for the council as an institution dedicated to this issue.”
Is our drinking water really, seriously threatened or is this a game of politics?
“The regulations proposed by the state would allow fracking, immediately adjacent underneath our water supply tunnels which could lead to the direct contamination to the water transported by these tunnels by fracking fluids.” That is the threat, said Gennaro.
“This is what the scientists believe. Also as a geologist, the city’s DEP put forward – almost two years ago – a large body of science that there should be at least a seven mile ban buffer zone with in any kind of infrastructure like a tunnel. The state DEC is offering rather than a mile buffer, but a 1000-foot buffer. Forty times less than what the city asked for. The state’s buffer is not a true buffer. The Battleground is the buffer to make sure the city can protect the water supply. There are areas upstate technically outside the watershed near our critical water supply tunnels, and that area is not protected.”
What message would you like to send to
Big Energy Government Regulators?
Gennaro said the message is not meant for Energy corporations. Corporations by design are motivated by maximizing profit and therefore responsibility for the environment falls on regulators to ensure these companies are operating in a safe capacity.
“Many folks in the fracking debate have all kinds of things to say to the big energy companies, I have a lot more to say to the government regulators who set the rules to which Big energy has to play, there are many people that are involved in the anti fracking movement that have a lot of animus toward Big Energy. It is not big energy’s job to protect the groundwater. Government Regs are charged with responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources and not putting forth regulation that would cause big problems.
I save my punches for Gov regulators, Gennaro quipped.
“If anyone thinks that big energy is going to be more environmentally protective to our natural resources than the government allows them to be, that’s just not the reality.
The health and safety of people is not at the feet of Big Energy its at the feet of Gov regulators who are blinded by short term tax revenues that comes with liquidating natural resources.
I think it’s a fool’s argument. At the end of the day it’s the people we elect to protect us.”
Council Member Jim Gennaro is doing just that. Bravo Jim.