Starkey Citizens for a Clean & Healthy Environment
Lawmakers Query DEC Chief on Gas Drilling

ALBANY An appearance before state lawmakers by Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens on his agency's proposed 2013-14 budget Monday turned into a three-hour grilling dominated by the issue of natural gas hydrofracking.

The scene took place in a hearing room packed by hundreds of hydrofracking opponents, with a line of people waiting to get in long after Martens started testifying. When he left, several dozen people followed Martens out into the hallway, peppering him with questions, until staffers whisked the stone-faced commissioner away into a stairwell in the Legislative Office Building.

Among his inquisitors at the joint Assembly-Senate budget hearing was hydrofracking opponent Sen. Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat and proponent of a hydrofracking ban, who greeted Martens by telling him that he was "doing a great job, except for the issue of hydrofracking."

The lawmaker took Martens to task for an unreleased DEC assessment of the potential human health impacts of hydrofracking, a drilling technique which uses a high-pressure blend of chemicals, water and sand to break up gas-bearing rocks deep underground.

After natural gas opponents repeatedly called for a health study, DEC decided late last year that its unreleased review would be studied by the state Department of Health, which in turn hired three outside experts. Critics like Avella question why the DEC review remains secret, as does the DOH review.

"My concern is that the DEC review was nothing, and the (outside) scientists were asked to look at this, and they are reviewing nothing," Avella said.

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