Fracking, Freedom of Information and the NYS Department of Health
It is an old story with a new title, but the plot is the same ... "don't tell the public a thing and delay until after they have voted."
For the past 5 years, the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association (SLPWA) has been concerned about the impact of high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) technology on the health and environment of Seneca Lake and its residents. Our concerns have been expressed in public forums and in public letters to our elected representatives at the state and national levels which are available on our website. We have responded publicly to requests for comments on draft documents such as the proposed regulations for HVHF and the draft Supplemental Generic Impact Statements (dSGEIS). This communication has been one-way. Occasionally there has been an acknowledgement of a letter by a legislator, but never anything from the Governor's office or the State Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation.
For the past 2 years, we have been frustrated in our attempt to understand what New York State is doing relative to development a comprehensive health impact assessment of HVHF which needs to be part of any dSGEIS. This frustration led us to file several FOIL requests for such information. These requests were initially rejected, the rejections appealed and finally after a year of non-response by the Department of Health, on September 12, 2013, SLPWA sued the Department of Health for lack of response to our FOIL requests.
We have yet to have a court date for this lawsuit because the Department of Health (DOH) seemingly offered to provide the requested information, responded in a limited way by providing published articles on the topic (which were already in the public domain) but never provided any internal communication documents which shed light on the thinking or evaluation of how HVHF was being viewed by our health authorities in carrying out their assessment. SLPWA through its legal counsel pressed for more relevant information. Under the threat of going through the court proceeding this past Spring, on May 5, 2014, SLPWA offered the DOH and the State Attorney General, a plausible solution. Since then, our only communications from DOH have been extension letters, offering no explanation as to the reason for the delay. We had agreements to release the materials as they are reviewed and redacted. Since we have received no documents in over 5 months, either DOH is ignoring that agreement….or they are doing absolutely nothing to respond to the request or the lawsuit.
The last offer we have, that we rejected, is that we settle for just three months of emails.
In short, the court proceeding has the same identifiable plot, delay after delay based on seeming to offer a response to our Freedom of Information request. The present situation is that various administrative processes are blamed for the slowness of the response which apparently will not materialize (if it really happens) until after the election in November. The storyline is familiar.
To its credit, the present state administration and legislature have not allowed the HVHF process to be used in New York State citing the fact that they are working diligently to scientifically understand the impact that this process will have on the state.
However, they are shielding from public view the details of their assessment process. A comprehensive health impact assessment should be a participative public process. It is a process that has been used in other states and has been studied and recommended by the National Academies. Yet this administration does not wish the public to be part of this process and will share no information about it, even finding ways to frustrate the exercise of the very law designed to allow access to information that the public is entitled to: the Freedom of Information Law.
Despite our efforts, SLPWA and the public are not any more knowledgeable on how New York State is assessing the potential impact of HVHF on the health and environment of our state. Nor do we have any assurance that the DOH and DEC are monitoring all the new research on health and environmental impacts that have been announced recently.
We think you need to know the status of our lawsuit and the continued unwillingness of the DOH to comply with the law….at least until Election Day.
The documents received in the first release are available on Dropbox at the following links (these are very large files; download using a fast connection to a computer not a mobil device):
Disc 1: Click here to view or download
Disc 2: Click here to view or download
As we complete review of the additional released documents, they will also be placed on Dropbox. Watch our website for more developments on the response to our FOIL request and additional links. For detailed instructions on the use of these files, go to our project page on fracking.
If you are interested in receiving notices of additional released documents, please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mary Anne Kowalski, President