Cuomo's choice for DEC chief pleases fracking foes

Joe Martens: Photo via the Adirondack Park AgencyJoe Martens: Photo via the Adirondack Park AgencyYesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his choice for the head of the embattled New York Department of Environmental Conservation, an agency that has burned through two chiefs in three months, will be an open space advocate who has experience overseeing ski centers and has expressed clear concerns about natural gas drilling. 

Joe Martens, who was president of the Open Space Institute before being tapped for the job of DEC Commissioner by Cuomo yesterday, gave a speech last year in which he said that the DEC should "go slow" on gas drilling. Here's an excerpt from a transcript which is posted on the OSI's website:

If nothing else, it seems to me, the Department should go slow. The tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon operation in the Gulf clearly demonstrated that the unexpected can and will happen. It is also clear that the gas industry has not been as candid as it should have been with regards to the potential for problems. That suggests to me that our fate—and the need to separate objective science and environmental assessment from industry rhetoric—is in DEC’s hands, and the stakes could not be higher ...

New Yorkers created the Adirondack and Catskill state parks more than a hundred years ago to protect the water resources within them. New York City has committed hundreds of millions of dollars and has spent years protecting its watershed so that more than 9 million people can drink unfiltered water. I see no reason to rush to judgment on a decision as monumental as hydrofracking in the Marcellus.

Environmental groups have been quick to laud Cuomo's choice of Martens and its implicit implications for gas drilling. U.S. Representative Maurice Hinchey, another drilling foe, has applauded Cuomo's choice, as has the New York League of Conservation voters. The NYLCV pointed out Martens' stand on fracking, albeit somewhat obliquely, in a press release:

New York is facing some of the most complex sustainability challenges in a generation, particularly in the areas of natural gas drilling and reductions in environmental staff and programs. Having worked closely with Joe Martens over the years, we are convinced that he will be up to the challenge of strengthening DEC’s ability to protect New York’s air, water and land even in these difficult economic times.

In an article today, the Times Union reports that other Martens fans are the National Resources Defense Council, Scenic Hudson, and the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The Times Herald-Record points out that Martens' environmentalist and conservationist credentials include more than his views on natural gas drilling. Reporters Adam Bosch and Steve Israel write about Martens' move several years ago to block the Shawangunk Ridge from development in 2006 and his service as the chair of the advisory board of the Catskill Mountainkeeper.

Fracking aside, Martens' appointment might be great news for Belleayre Mountain, as WGXC pointed out two weeks ago on its blog:

Martens also chairs the Olympic Regional Development Authority board of directors which oversees the Gore and Whiteface ski centers in the Adirondacks as well as the skating, jumping, bobsledding and other Olympic facilities around Lake Placid. Given the problems that the DEC has been facing with its Belleayre Mountain facility in Ulster County, where major job cuts have been occurring over the last month, a long-asked for shift of the facility to a new state management agency could be in the offings, after all…

But since the biggest issue the DEC faces this year is gas drilling, most New Yorkers are focusing on that. On his blog today, Sullivan County real estate guru and blogger David Knudsen wrote that Martens' appointment might be a game-changer for the fracking debate:

Joe is well respected in the environmental community. He currently serves as president of the Open Space Institute, and until recently was chairman of the board of Catskill Mountainkeeper, a lead opponent of horizontal hydrofracking gas drilling. By nominating Mr. Martens to the top DEC post, Cuomo is clearly sending a message to approach gas drilling cautiously and slowly. One of the concerns in anti-drilling camp is that gas industry would steamroll over Albany with its money and lobbyists. But with Joe Martens at the helm, I have a little more faith that this will be a fairer fight.

Correction: The headline on this story initially referred (wrongly) to the DEP instead of the DEC. Sorry for the error.