The Legislature’s review of the Executive Budget proposal continued last week, with hearings on Environmental Conservation, Housing, Human Services and Public Protection.

While the issue is not addressed in the state budget, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens responded to a number of questions relating to his agency’s ongoing review of hydraulic fracturing.  Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” is a drilling technique which uses a high-pressure blend of chemicals, water and sand to break up gas-bearing rocks deep underground to recover natural gas. Martens defended his agency’s work, and said that DEC has no projected date for finishing shale gas drilling rules.

Gov.  Cuomo and the DEC are expected to decide soon whether to lift the state’s 4+ year moratorium on fracking, which has made vast quantities of natural gas accessible in other states throughout the nation.   Our view is that the state’s natural gas resources can be developed safely and responsibly, and in doing so Upstate (especially the Southern Tier) will benefit tremendously.  We can’t let a few radical environmentalists spreading misinformation cause us to miss this tremendous opportunity.

The Governor’s budget proposal would result in the closure of two prisons, one in Dutchess County and another in Manhattan.  The Governor argues that the state’s prison population is down significantly since the 1990s. He closed seven prisons in 2011, and projects $80 million in savings over the next two years resulting from the new closures. The state Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association objects to the proposed closures, arguing that they will put officers out of work and lead to less safe prisons.

State budget hearings continue this week with Higher Education, Taxes and Economic Development.