Most Americans still have not yet felt the economic recovery. Good paying jobs remain scarce across most of the country. Harrison County, West Virginia has found prosperity other places can only dream about. In early 2010 unemployment hit desperation levels at nearly nine percent. Now the jobless rate only four years later has dipped to 4.9 percent — which economists consider full employment. Most would call this an economic miracle.
This miracle could be repeated in the Empire State’s more economically ailing counties, but New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration decisively rejected the economic engine that has powered prosperity in communities across the U.S. In a politically motivated ploy, Cuomo punted an important economic decision to a group of bureaucrats who decided to reject permitting hydraulic fracturing.
Dr. Howard Zucker, state health commissioner, asked and answered, “Would I live in a community [with fracking] based on the facts I have now? Would I let my child play in a school field nearby, drink water from the tap or grow vegetables from the soil? My answer is no.”
Despite Zucker’s admonitions, the most recent and exhaustive studies show that the hydraulic fracturing process poses no threat to groundwater. A Pennsylvania company using hydraulic fracturing allowed Department of Energy experts to monitor and test the process and its results. The government research found that the drilling posed no threat to whatsoever. A similar study conducted by Duke University also arrived at the same conclusion.
Last year, thorough studies of hydraulic fracturing in Texas also showed no signs of problem. Here, they looked for evidence to support the claim that drilling causes earthquakes. A team led by an expert from the University of Texas debunked the arguments of anti-drilling activists.
One has to wonder why Governor Cuomo found Zucker’s presentation more “highly effective,” “powerful,” and “poignant,” than respected government and academic researchers. Even more wondrous is why the governor would accept the conclusions of a career clinical anesthesiologist over those of experts in geology who researched the matter first hand.
Anti-drilling activists claimed that the governor’s reluctance to make a decision before November pushed down turnout of the Democratic base. Unfortunately the governor made a choice that may have satisfied major progressive New York City donors, but left working people throughout the state standing on the sidelines of a jobs boom.
The decision to keep as much political cover as possible also cost Governor Cuomo. His leading from behind strategy, highlighted by the memorable line, “I don’t even think I have a role here” will come back to haunt his possible future aspirations to the White House. Blue collar Democrats (if any are left by the next presidential election) will not forget his dismissal of so many jobs. Industry leaders are not fooled, understanding this to be a political decision.
At the end of the day, Cuomo’s choices hurt his chances to show strength and leadership. Simultaneously, he removed New York from a golden opportunity to revitalize its state heartland.
Although the Sierra Club reveled in the announcement, saying it will “shake the foundations of our nation’s flawed energy policy” drilling goes on in happier places. It continues to drop unemployment in West Virginia, to produce record economic growth in North Dakota, and to fill the treasury of our commonwealth neighbor to the south. Meanwhile, the average New Yorker struggles in a sluggish economy, wondering why state leadership has failed the people once again.
Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity