The Environmental Working Group recently obtained emails exchanged between the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the natural gas industry. The Environmental Working Group is pushing for a moratorium on the use of the controversial drilling technique known as hydrofracking until all possible health and safety concerns are addressed to the environmental community’s satisfaction. The group, which obtained the emails by requesting them under the Freedom of Information Act, says the exchange suggests an overly cozy relationship between the DEC and the natural gas industry.
The correspondences between the DEC and the gas industry gave those within the industry advanced notice of the proposed hydrofracking, also known as fracking, regulations. While individuals within the industry received this information in the middle of August, those who opposed the use of fracking and the general public were not made aware of such until September 28th. The DEC has attempted to defend itself by stating that the communications with the natural gas industry were consistent with the state’s Administrative Procedure Act; which was designed to ensure regulations are not overly burdensome. However, legal experts have revealed that the advance sharing of information is not required by the act.
One email sent by DEC Deputy Counsel Allison Crocker to a law firm that represents gas drillers states “[t]he Department is seeking input from the regulated industry regarding the costs of complying with the regulatory restrictions and protections on high-volume hydraulic fracturing.” In their response a member of the firm stated that they “are particularly concerned about some of the proposals that are being developed in the Division of Water.” The DEC confirmed that no other groups received a similar opportunity to review and react to the proposals.
Michael Livermore, executive director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, stated “this is a bad thing for a couple of reasons… Why did the DEC only talk to industry and not environmental groups and the impacted communities? If only the industry is part of the shaping of the draft regulations, that imbalance has the potential to skew the rules toward industry.” Although the DEC did not violate any laws by disclosing the proposals to the gas industry in advance, an ex-DEC official stated that “[t]his is troubling. The public expects an agency to avoid both actual conflicts of interest and the appearance of a conflict.”