DEC Hired Fracking Lobby for $50 Million to Assess ... Fracking?
Update: See statement from the DEC, and a letter from E&E explaining its relationship to IOGANY, at the bottom.
New York state might just have to scrap the latest draft of its environmental impact study on hydraulic fracturing. The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) and state lawmakers are asking for a re-do after the discovery of a pretty large conflict of interest: Namely, that an environmental consulting group that helped prepare the draft study turned out to be a member of the Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA), a natural gas industry lobbying group.
In 2011, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation signed a $50 million contract with Ecology and Environment, Inc. (E&E), an environmental consulting firm. The company was also selected to provide an analysis of the economic impacts of fracking in the state. In August of 2011, E&E provided the DEC with that study, which some anti-fracking groups claimed was biased. The New York Times highlighted that skepticism when it pointed out that E&E "expedited permit applications for more than 200 pipeline and gas storage projects worldwide" in 2011, but couldn't establish a clear connection to any lobbying interest. That changed this week, when NYPIRG discovered that Ecology and Environment, Inc. appeared as a member of IOGA on a letter to Governor Cuomo, urging him to open New York to hydraulic fracturing.
A bit of background: Last year, IOGA was paid $2 million by Exxon Mobil to run several full-page newspaper ads in support of drilling for Marcellus shale. But regarding E&E's inclusion in the letter, IOGA of New York Executive Director Brad Gill demurred: "The roster that followed the letter identified the magnitude and diversity of our membership and did not purport to reflect each member's individual point-of-view," he told lohud.com.
"While there have been suspicions about the impartiality of Ecology and Environment for quite some time, we think that signing onto a letter to the governor saying he needs to approve fracking, that crosses the line," NYPIRG's legislative counsel Russ Haven tells the Voice. "That's a smoking gun demonstration of a clear conflict," he says. "And accordingly we think the governor should scrap the part of the environmental impact review that was done by them."
Neither the DEC nor E&E responded for comment by press time.
Read the letter NYPIRG sent Cuomo, objecting to E&E's work on the draft study below.
Update: The DEC has sent the Voice a statement clarifying their position.
"After reports of E&E's membership in IOGA, DEC requested that E&E clarify its membership status. DEC received the attached letter from E&E stating they are not a member of IOGA," spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said.
We are embedding the letter sent to the DEC from E&E today below. E&E's definition of membership goes as follows (emphasis ours):
"E & E has never had a corporate membership with IOGANY. E & E, however, has paid annual membership fees for an employee since 2008, in order to attend IOGANY's Conferences and receive its newsletter to be kept apprised of new technical developments in the industry and develop industry contacts, but said employee has never taken a leadership role at IOGANY, or seat (sic) on any committees."
E&E also noted that it has directed said employee to terminate his relationship (which was not corporate, but individual, though E&E, the corporation, paid membership fees) with IOGANY, effective immediately.