Cuomo and Schneiderman Clash on Hydrofracking

Jon Lentz for The Capitol |

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, confers with attorney general candidate Eric Schneiderman, right, at a fundraiser in Oct., 2010. Their offices harbor conflicting agendas on "fracking." AP /Kathy Willens

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman both say they want the strongest possible safety precautions in place before hydrofracking gets the green light in New York.

But so far the two men have not exactly been on the same page on the controversial form of gas drilling.

The Cuomo administration, which has made job creation a big part of its agenda, is putting together stringent regulations while also emphasizing the economic benefits of gas drilling as it speeds up the state’s drawn-out review process.

Schneiderman, who ran for attorney general with the strong backing of the environmental community, has raised red flags on drilling, from suing the federal government over regional drilling regulations to subpoenaing companies over the accuracy of their natural gas estimates.

And depending on how things play out, the two powerful Democrats may find the issue a point of contention between their respective offices, which have had political friction in recent years.

Environmental groups in particular may prod Schneiderman to push back if drilling is allowed.

“I do believe that Schneiderman and other elected officials and political people who are opposed to fracking are going to come to heads with Cuomo,” said Ramsay Adams, the executive director of the environmental group Catskill Mountainkeeper. “I believe Cuomo is deeply misreading the pulse of the state.”

One irony is that Schneiderman, who as a candidate pledged to sue to stop hydrofracking if it’s not done safely, will likely have to defend the Department of Environmental Conservation’s drilling regulations if environmentalists challenge them in court, which several groups have promised to do.

“He’s got to be very careful, as the attorney general, about what and where he expresses his view that fracking isn’t safe,” Adams said. “Because ultimately he’s going to have to defend the regulations from lawsuits from us.”

Some of the differences in approach between the two Democrats can be chalked up to the distinctive roles of each office. The governor and the attorney general are acting more in line with their respective duties than for any political motives, said John Holko, a board member and secretary of the Independent Oil and Gas Association.

The governor’s job is to promote the state’s economy while ensuring that drilling is safe, Holko said. Schneiderman, who as attorney general doesn’t have to weigh things like budget shortfalls, can focus on limiting any adverse effects of drilling.

“If you put those two together, I think you get a clearer view of where the governor wants to open up and do things and the attorney general wants to make sure they’re done right,” Holko said. “I don’t think they’re fighting each other; I just think they’re coming from two different perspectives. It’s like the glass is half-full or half-empty.”

Read the full post on The Capitol.

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