Freedom of information, fracking & NYS Health Dept.

The following is a release issued by the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association.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. But let’s review a little New York State history:Forty years ago, then-Governor Malcolm Wilson signed the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) which went into effect September 1, 1974 and created the Committee on Public Access to Records to implement this legislation. The 1974 legislature noted that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government.At that time, the legislature argued that as state and local government services increase and public problems become more sophisticated and complex and therefore harder to solve, and with the resultant increase in revenues and expenditures, it is incumbent upon the state and its localities to extend public accountability wherever and whenever feasible.The people’s right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality. The legislature therefore declared that government is the public’s business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of the FOIL legislation.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.Since 2009, 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. (See the attached Timeline which shows some of the major events in the development of an environmental impact statement which covers the proposed major industrialization of the rural areas of New York State.) 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 (DOH), on September 12, 2013, SLPWA sued DOH for lack of response to our FOIL requests.We have yet to have a court appearance in this lawsuit. That is because after the suit was filed, DOH signed an agreement to provide the requested documents, including emails, by April 1, 2014. But the documents provided to date do not satisfy DOH’s obligations under FOIL. We have been provided with published articles and a film, all of which were already in the public domain. Emails and other unpublished documents have not been provided. The production of relevant emails is repeatedly promised, and then the date of production rescheduled. Currently, DOH has agreed to produce all relevant emails by Nov. 3, 2014, the day before Election Day.In short, the court proceeding has the same plot as the initial DOH response to our Freedom of Information request— delay after delay based on promises that are not fulfilled.To its credit, the present state administration has 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 public access to information—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 want you to know the status of our lawsuit and the continued unwillingness of the DOH to comply with the law….at least until Election Day.About Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association:The 33-year old Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association (www.senecalake.org) is dedicated to “enhancing and preserving the quality of Seneca Lake”. It received a 2013 U.S. EPA Environmental Quality Award for an outstanding commitment to protecting and enhancing environmental quality and public health.

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