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Alison Rose Levy Headshot

Water or Gas? Karl Rove, Cheney, and Cohorts Weighing In On Key NY Race

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Like many Americans, few New Yorkers know where their water and local food come from. The farmer's market? Somewhere up north? But Karl Rove knows the precise location of the next big play by gas and oil companies, (and their ally Halliburton.)

And it's in exactly the same place. Upstate New York.

As we approach the election, many city dwellers are unaware of the upstate battle that will impact their water supply. The majority have accepted that politicians' and elected officials' are taking care of it.

But the real question in this election is: Who's taking care to elect New York officials?

The answer is: Karl Rove, Liz Cheney, and their gas company allies pouring money into New York from outside the state. They've targeted an obscure upstate New York race with nearly a million dollars spent for TV ads, robocalls, and mail pieces opposing the incumbent, Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY). Some constituents have also received Rove-style phone calls. In one, callers say they are conducting a push poll, and next play what Hinchey campaign manager Liam Fitzsimmons calls "a mashup," a recorded message by Bill Clinton, edited-to-mislead voters into thinking Clinton opposes the progressive Congressman, and "wants the listener to vote him out." In fact, Bill Clinton endorses Hinchey, and made a public show of support at a recent Binghamton rally.

Why is Rove singling out an incumbent so popular he's been unbeatable for the last eighteen years? Because Maurice Hinchey has a backbone. He introduced the Frack Act in Congress, which, if passed, would put energy companies back into compliance with the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and other safety and health protections. The Halliburton Loophole, masterminded by Dick Cheney in the 2005 Energy Act, exempted them from all of those standard regulations.

This past weekend, the grass roots group Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy joined New York City activists to speak with city-dwellers shopping at the nearby Park Slope Food Coop. The most oft-repeated comment from Brooklynites was "Gas, money, water? What a mix! How come I never heard about this before?"

Here's a primer for newcomers.

Does this Gas Smell?

New York's gas reserves lie buried deep in the underground Marcellus Shale, an extensive rock formation covering much of upstate. Gas companies have leased mineral rights from broke upstate farmers. The companies use a highly controversial process called "fracking" to mine the gas. Overnight, fracking transforms farmlands and wilderness into industrial zones, causing air pollution, generating radioactive waste, and requiring heavy truck traffic to carry hazardous waste.

What Money?

Gas companies are accumulating large land parcels to sell to even bigger international companies, lured by the potential for billions in untaxed earnings -- if they succeed in persuading New York State politicians allow fracking to begin without taxing it. It was done in Pennsylvania, where the former Homeland Security Chief is a highly paid spokesperson for the industry. According to Marcellus Money, a project of Common Cause, legislators who received industry campaign contributions opposed a state tax on drilling. In other states, tax money is used to help cover costs of safety inspectors, and to train first responders to safely cope with accidents and explosions.

Whose Water?

Five million gallons (per well) of New York's water would be freely appropriated for each well. Fracking mixes over 500 toxic chemicals into that water and injects it underground with earthquake-like force to release the gas. Due to spills, leaks, explosions, unpredictable underground rock formations, road transport accidents, and faulty cement casings (made by Halliburton) fracking fluids have contaminated water supplies and agricultural products across the U.S. Fracking uses carcinogenic and neurotoxic chemicals, active at parts per trillion, according Dr. Theo Colborn, and other health experts. Senior geologists are concerned that New York's unique geology make upstate drilling an even higher risk to New York City's unfiltered water supply. However, companies are pressuring legislators to proceed prior to the completion of an EPA study to assess that.

New Yorkers Begin to Smell Gas

"If a kid tossed his bubble gum into our upstate water sources, the media would scream about a terrorist attack on New York. But here you have the same industries who brought us the Gulf, and we should trust them with our water?" said one Brooklyn resident interviewed by Sabrina Artel, host of the live radio program, Trailer Talk, of the Marcellus Shale Water Project. Artel drove her bright red mobile trailer down to Brooklyn to launch a public conversation with New Yorkers, including Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke(D-NY). Artel offered a generous spread of upstate produce, including crisp Macoun apples, homemade pickles, artisanal cheese, and pumpkin cookies.

Congresswoman Clarke told Artel, "New Yorkers rely on pristine water from upstate. We need to preserve this for generations to come. It's something to fight for. We don't have the regulations in place to assure the safety of this process. We can't allow private industry to go unchecked for the sake of profits. We shouldn't rely on those who rush us through a rapid approval process that assures nothing but their bottom line. Our bottom line is our water. Making a mistake could jeopardize our water supply, which is an end to life as we know it.'

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