Maybe the greatest victory for the anti-fracking activists in New York State is switching the burden of proof from the victims to the producers. A hallmark of European environmental policy is to place the burden of proof on the industries producing suspect products—making industries prove their products will do no harm to the public or to the environment before these products are allowed on the markets.
The reverse has been true on this side of the Atlantic. Decades of environmental and public health abuses by polluting industries—cigarettes, leaded gas and paint, using hydrofluorocarbons (super greenhouse gases) as a refrigerant, etc.—have been allowed to continue business as usual until enough time, health and environmental damage, money, and research finally brought the polluters to court.
This statement by acting New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker could have profound implications not only on Fracking in New York State but also on how we address environmental concerns in our hemisphere:
"Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF [high-volume hydraulic fracturing] to all New Yorkers and whether the risks can be adequately managed, DOH recommends that HVHF should not proceed in NYS," Zucker wrote in a letter to Martens that accompanies the public health report. (The legacy of New York's fracking decision,12/24/ 2014 Rochester City Newspaper)
The burden of proof that Fracking in New York must not harm the public’s health is now the responsibility of the Fracking industry—which should have always been the case. In states like Pennsylvania, Fracking started without much research and since then it’s been the dickens for the public to prove that their health and water well problems have been due to nearby Fracking operations. When already ensconced, the Fracking industry looks on with disdain for those concerned about methane leaks and other concerns because once given approval by the state to begin their harmful practices, it is almost impossible bring them to task.
This business-as-usual climate, where it’s harder to stop existing polluters than to switch to energy options that don’t pollute, must change quickly. Maybe New York State’s six-year Fracking experience can offer some practical insights to the necessary energy shift we must make if we are to keep global temperatures at 2C above preindustrial levels.
The science of Climate Change couldn’t be clearer. The CLIMATE CHANGE 2014 Synthesis Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in November makes it crystal clear that we have to quickly reduce fossil fuel use:
The unrestricted use of fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change, a UN-backed expert panel says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says in a stark report that most of the world's electricity can - and must - be produced from low-carbon sources by 2050. If not, the world faces "severe, pervasive and irreversible" damage. (Fossil fuels should be phased out by 2100 says IPCC, 11/02/2014, BBC News)
Banning Fracking in New York State presents a major opportunity to address Climate Change by dramatically increasing the potential for renewable energy. Now that we’ve dodged a major environmental challenge to our environment, our health, and our climate by NOT Fracking New York, we have opened the door wider for more wind and solar power. The economic obstacles presented by cheap natural gas is now reduced and gives the growing green energy industries the boost they need.
Better battery power for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, conserving energy, increasing energy efficiency, and updating our energy infrastructure with Cuomo’s New York Energy Highway program (fixing leaking gas pipes, supporting green energy, reducing bottlenecks affecting renewable energy, and advancing Smart Grid technologies) can now accelerate our state’s role in reducing greenhouse gases—and provide many jobs. We’ve lost six precious years fighting Fracking in New York. Now let’s focus on the provisions of the COP20 Lima climate talks and make major strides in New York for a successful COP21 Paris climate agreement. (BTW: Did I mention more jobs? More jobs than Fracking would have ever provided New Yorkers?)
Sure, the battle to keep New York Frack-free is not over. Those pro-fracking people will never give up as long as there is a buck to be made from fossil fuels. But the COP20 Lima talks have gotten folks around the world considering an alternative to our addiction to fossil fuels:
The switch to renewable power is a battle we cannot afford to lose The Lima climate talks saw a shift towards action with renewable energy taking centre stage, says the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency Since the final gavel fell at the Lima climate talks earlier this month, discussions have centred on one question: what did the talks actually accomplish? After two weeks of intense negotiation, governments settled on a draft text that will hopefully lead to a successful global climate deal in Paris next December. While opinions vary regarding the success or failure of the outcome, there is another story emerging outside the negotiation room. This year’s conference represented a highly-significant shift in the positive momentum to act on climate change. While negotiators engaged in contentious debates, businesses, non-governmental organisations and local authorities stepped forward to present their own climate initiatives and committed to more action on the ground. In this shift, renewable energy took centre stage. (December 24, 2014 The Guardian