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As fracking looms, local lawmakers look the other way

In the coming months, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo might approve the use of a controversial and dangerous form of shale gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, throughout New York State. Will any of our legislators step up to fight?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has linked fracking and drilling for natural gas to several cases of water contamination across the country, most recently in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming, while the New York Department of Environmental Conservation admits that fracking could have "significant adverse effects on water resources in the state." Yet the DEC continues to propose regulations that would allow the fracking industry to move forward at the expense of New York and its residents.

The City of Buffalo was the first in the state to ban shale gas drilling and fracking waste on a municipal level, leading the way for more than 60 municipalities to follow suit. Recently, the Buffalo Common Council reaffirmed its stance by sending a letter to Cuomo, asking him to reject the flawed environmental impact study and instead pass a bill banning fracking in New York. Local lawmakers in Western New York have led the way with immense citizen support, but the area's state legislators are currently at a standstill.

Fortunately, many legislators in eastern parts of the state are familiar with the environmental and public health dangers of fracking and have opposed the practice by supporting legislation prohibiting it. Sadly, there are no Western New York state representatives on this bill.

The DEC's study protects Syracuse and New York City watersheds, but leaves Western New York to rely on outdated filtration systems for theirs. In a letter to Cuomo last September, 59 scientists -- including several from the National Academy of Sciences -- wrote, "We urge the state to reconsider its position that existing water filtration systems provide adequate protection against the risk of hydraulic fracturing."

One month later, 250 physicians sent a letter to Cuomo, protesting his stance on fracking and citing the lack of data on human health impacts.

In February, State Sen. Mark J. Grisanti, R-Buffalo, spoke out against toxic chemicals in home products, accused the federal chemical system of being "outdated and ineffective" and claimed that protecting children from toxic threats "is not a partisan issue." Does Grisanti believe that clean water is a partisan issue?

As head of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, where a bill that could protect New York State from fracking has been stalled since last year's session, Grisanti needs to lead Western New York on this issue. Our state legislators cannot continue to stay silent on fracking; they must get involved in this fight.

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Rita Yelda works at Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food.