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Environmental issues discussed at the Capitol

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Albany/HV: Environmental issues discussed at the Capitol
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Lawmakers in Albany had some tough questions for DEC Commissioner Joe Martens about hydrofracking during a budget hearing in Albany. Capital Tonight's Nick Reisman reports.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- When it comes to the controversial gas extraction process known as hydrofracking, Governor Andrew Cuomo is finding himself between a shale rock and a hard place. The governor's top environmental regulator, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens faced sharp questioning on Monday from a panel of state lawmakers on whether high-volume fracking will be allowed.

Martens said, “The question is, can you properly regulate them? Can you force responsible companies to operate in New York? And that's an open question. What I'm concerned about is whether or not someone can operate in New York in a way that protects public health and the environment.”

The committee hearing was ostensibly to discuss the governor's budget proposal and its impact on the environment. But the issue of fracking dominated the discussion, complete with skeptical protesters serving as a vocal audience. That gave way to exchange like this one between Martens and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.

“How do you feel about saying, let's invite them into New York?” Lifton asked.

Martens replied, “Listen, I'm afraid anything I say here will be taken out of context. Case in point.”

After the testimony, anti-fracking protests filled the halls of the state Capitol, a protest that included actor and activist Mark Ruffalo and filmmaker Josh Fox.

“I think it's really clear the administration has their work cut out for them and that the people of New York are standing up and saying very strongly we should not be moving forward with fracking at this time,” said Katherine Nadeau, Environmental Advocates of New York.

While the governor has been able to thread needles on controversial issues ranging from taxing the rich to independent redistricting, hydrofracking is more difficult. The latest Siena College poll shows once again New Yorkers are split on the issue.

“I think if the governor is going to rely on polling or on public opinion to make a decision on this, he's going to make a mistake because public opinion is not going to help him,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.

Martens says whether the state will allow fracking is contingent on a health department report due out this month from Commissioner Nirav Shah.

“I'm waiting for Dr. Shah's health review and when that comes in we'll dictate what timetable we are on,” Martens said.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association, a natural gas industry trade group, said in a statement that the energy source can be developed safely and that the protesters Monday had their facts wrong.

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