Meeting with State Senator, Tony Avella – New York

The campaign to protect New York’s drinking water supply from potential contamination caused by shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing – or hydro fracking as it is called here – has ramped up significantly over the last 12 months.

New Yorkers boast that they have the world’s largest unfiltered water supply. One billion gallons a day are delivered to 9 million customers. Josh Fox, the director of Gasland recognises that winning the campaign in New York is strategically important in the campaign and has launched a short video titled ‘The sky is pink’ to highlight the issues here.

Meeting-Senator-Tony-Avella-in-Queens-NY-1024x681Groups like Artists against Fracking that boast celebrity members including Robert Deniro, Lady Gaga, and Yoko Ono bring a New York style to the campaign.

The campaign is reaching a crescendo after years of discussions about state’s regulatory response to gas drilling and fracking. Many think Democrat Governor Andrew Quomo is getting close to approving fracking within the water catchment that feeds the 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes that New Yorkers rely on for their driking water.

New York State Senator Tony Avella, also a Democrat, has been at the political centre of the campaign to protect New York’s drinking water system from the impacts of gas drilling and in particular fracking. His 4420 ‘Private Members’ Bill is currently on the notice paper and has sponsors in both the Senate and Lower House from both sides of the political spectrum. If passed the legislation would ban hydraulic fracturing within the State of New York. The Governor could veto the bill but that would be at political risk to him. Strangely the Democrat Governor finds allies in the Republicans in the State Senate who hold a one-vote majority. Despite Senator Avella having a number of Republicans who want to support the anti-fracking bill the Senate Majority Leader has the power to not allow the bill to come on for a vote.

I met with Senator Avella at his electorate office in Queens to talk about the politics of gas and we found that many of the strategies we were employing in our respective campaigns were similar. Inquiries and hearings to give the community and experts, particularly health experts a change to have their say about the impacts of gas drilling have been a feature of both offices. Earlier this month Senator Avella held the equivalent of an inquiry hearing about Hydrofracking. You can read the testimony here.

More than 100 groups have signed onto the campaign to force Governor Quomo to protect the New Yorks drinking water supplies. For me I have the 160+ groups affiliated with the Lock the Gate Alliance that helps to legitimise my calls to protect NSW’s food, water and communities.Gov-Cuomo-1024x699

My take away from the meeting with Senator Avella was that our ability to be effective in what we do in campaigning in our respective parliaments is almost entirely dependent on the public campaign driving that issue on the ground.

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