DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis conveyed the information in an email late this afternoon. The plan to file for an extension comes as an alternative to letting the rulemaking application expire and starting again – an option that would require reopening the process to public hearings that have become a lightening rod for dissention.
The deadline is Thursday, a year after the last public hearing on the issue. Filing for an extension seems logical from an administrative standpoint, but it comes with a key requirement: releasing a draft of the regulations for public comment. That requirement is at the center of a new upwelling of protests by environmental groups who don’t want any regulations released – even in draft form-- before a panel of independent experts have assessed how effectively the state has addressed health risks associated with high volume hydraulic fracturing.
Kate Sinding, senior attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, responded in a post on the agency’s blog, the Switchboard, that the decision to move forward rather than step back from the deadline
would also make the governor the Grinch who stole yet another Christmas from New Yorkers by delivering a set of unfinished revised rules – ones that don’t reflect the results of the on-going health and environmental reviews – and asking the public to weigh in on them over the holidays. This means fewer people are likely to be able to voice their concerns in time for the state to consider them as it finalizes the rules.
The choice will be welcomed by industry proponents eager for shale gas development to begin in New York because it sends a signal that the Cuomo administration is determined to push ahead with a plan to finalize regulations by the end of February – timing that corresponds with the completion of the health review. The Join Land Coalition of New York, a group of property owners lead by Broome County Landowner Dan Fitzsimmons who are eager to secure gas leases, issued a statement that the group is “cautiously optimistic” that the four and a half year process is nearing an end, and that “We are encouraged that the Governor and DEC have a plan to avoid expiration of the regulatory review.”
The process to adopt regulations – governed under the State Administrative Procedures Act – has progressed concurrently with an environmental review of fracking, called a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS). But unlike the SGIES, the SAPA rulemaking process must be completed within a year or restarted. The SGEIS, which is used to establish permitting guidelines in the absence of regulations as well as a tool to inform policy makers who are drafting regulations for a new industry, has been revised multiple times since 2008 after contentious public hearings and comment periods. Permitting remains on hold until the SGEIS is complete. That also could be in February, depending on the assessment and recommendations issued by the panel of health experts.
“DEC will file a notice for a 90-day extension allowed by state law to continue to work as [Department of Health Commissioner] Dr. Shah’s health review of the SGEIS comes to completion,” Emily DeSantis said in an email this afternoon.