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J. Mijin Cha Headshot

The Answer Is Not Fracking or Coal. It's Neither.

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A few months ago, Joseph Martens, the Commissioner of New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation, rejected calls for an independent analysis of the health impacts from fracking. Martens' solution was to ask the state's Health Commissioner to appoint independent experts to do the review. Leaving alone the illogic of rejecting an independent commission only to ask another agency to appoint a commission, there is cause for concern on what the commission will recommend. The Wall Street Journal quotes Lynn Goldman, one of the health experts, as saying, "A decision not to frack is a decision to use more coal." Not only is this assertion completely wrong, this type of thinking is dangerous to communities.

Goldman posits a false choice. Continuing the moratorium against fracking in New York State does not mean that New York's only option is to use more coal. In fact, the state currently produces more electricity from renewable energy than it does from coal. Eleven percent of the state's electricity comes from renewables and by 2020, that share could increase to close to 40 percent. There is no reason why the state couldn't double down on expanding renewable energy production, rather than allow fracking or increase coal use.

The fact that one of the three health experts sees the issue as coal versus fracking is problematic. The health impacts of fracking must be analyzed on their own. The question must be whether fracking harms the health of community members, not whether fracking is less dangerous than coal. By positioning the question as coal versus fracking, Goldman assumes that communities will have to accept some level of health hazard. In short, she is telling upstate communities to choose their poison.

The fact that there is even an independent health panel is duplicative and a show of political cowardice from Governor Cuomo. The health impacts study is just a tactic to delay the decision on whether to extend the moratorium. It's not as if fracking is some hypothetical procedure with unknown consequences. Fracking is not only underway, the apparent health and environmental consequences from it seem clear. Mysterious health problems, poisoned drinking water, increased earthquakes are all occurring in fracking communities. These conditions will almost certainly replicate themselves if fracking is allowed in New York State. And, for what end? Allowing fracking would sacrifice the health and safety of upstate communities for what will amount to a six-year supply of natural gas.

The choice is not between coal and fracking. The choice is between a future fueled by a finite energy source that will permanently damage the health and environment of upstate communities and a clean energy future powered by renewable sources. It really is that simple.