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Hydrofracking opponents stake their ground

01/04/12

Among the politicians, lobbyists, local officials and press corps flooding the Empire State Plaza concourse for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s second State of the State address, several dozen anti-hydrofracking protesters are wielding signs with a message leaving little doubt who they’re targeting: “In 2014, we’ll remember.”

Another read: “Governor Cuomo, If you can’t protect NY water, you can’t become president.”

The protesters—led by Ithaca environmentalist/business owner/gadfly Walter Hang—have gathered in the concourse outside of the entrance to the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, where Cuomo will give his speech at 1:30 p.m.

But with high-volume hydrofracking already on hold in New York and no guarantees the state will be ready to issue permits in 2012, will Cuomo even touch the controversial topic?

“I have no idea,” Hang said. “He should mention it, because it’s one of the most important issues facing New York.”

Chances of Cuomo devoting any substantive time to hydrofracking in his speech appear slim. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has already conceded that funds for additional gas-drilling regulators won’t be included in Cuomo’s budget proposal, which will be unveiled later this month.

The individual protesters have a variety of demands, ranging from a withdrawal of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s hydrofracking recommendations to an all-out ban of the technique used with gas drilling.

Hang, meanwhile, is getting to know the Capitol and its environs quite well, having organized a handful of protests in Albany over the past two years. When a pair of state troopers came over to voice concern about clogging up the hallway, they knew Hang on a first-name basis.

Protesters packed a bus from the Southern Tier up to Albany this morning, and others were in town from New York City, Cooperstown and the Capital Region.

“Any State of the State speech is full of grand accomplishments the incumbent is proud of,” said Wes Gillingham, program director of Sullivan County-based Catskill Mountainkeeper. “But as we listen to that, there’s this thing (hydrofracking) that has not been dealt with. There’s so much more information that needs to be gathered, and the (DEC) document that we got is still fatally flawed and in no way protects New York from hydrofracking.”