* How will next attorney general enforce regulation?
* May be forced to support a law he/she disagrees with
By Edith Honan
NEW YORK, Sept 10 All of the candidates running
to be the next New York state attorney general support some
form of moratorium on natural gas drilling and put the burden
on industry to prove such drilling can be done without
endangering drinking water.
In interviews this week with Reuters, all five candidates
running in Tuesday's Democratic Party primary said they
supported in principal a drilling ban in areas like the New
York City watershed, which serves 9 million people.
The five all back a moratorium on drilling pending further
study. But the sole Republican candidate, Staten Island
District Attorney Dan Donovan -- who will compete against the
Democratic nominee in the Nov. 2 election -- supports a
year-long moratorium for further study, but opposes specific
"If there is a safe way of doing it, it should be done
because the amount of jobs and the clean energy we would be
able to gain from the drilling would be very valuable to our
state," Donovan said.
New York state sits atop part of the gas-rich Marcellus
Shale formation, and gas companies such as Chesapeake Energy
(CHK.N) have clashed with environmental groups over what
regulations will be needed to ensure drilling can be done
without harming drinking water.
At issue is the extraction process known as hydraulic
fracturing, or "fracking," which involves blasting millions of
gallons of water, sand and diluted chemicals into shale rock,
breaking it apart to free natural gas.
The New York state Senate passed a nine-month moratorium in
August, effectively passing the decision-making power on the
matter from Governor David Paterson to his successor, who will
also be elected in November.
The Assembly has not voted on the measure.
Sean Coffey, a former trial lawyer who is one of the
Democratic candidates for attorney general, said protection was
paramount because error was inevitable.
"It's a process that involves humans and machinery," he
The Democratic field also includes Nassau County District
Attorney Kathleen Rice; Eric Dinallo, a former assistant
attorney general under Eliot Spitzer; and two state legislators
-- state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky and state Senator Eric
POSITIONS ON THE MERITS
The attorney general's job description states the office
holder represents state agencies as well as acts as a guardian
of environmental laws. One of those agencies is the Department
of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which will set out
drilling guidelines in its environmental impact statement
expected next year.
Environmentalists say that raises a possible tension.
"The first decision the attorney general is going to have
to make is whether to defend DEC in court when multiple parties
litigate against the state," said Craig Michaels of the
environmental group Riverkeeper, adding he can "almost
guarantee" the issue will end up in court.
"Which is more important to the attorney general's office?
Upholding the environmental laws or representing the state
agencies that are tasked with carrying out those laws?" he
Brodsky said he is concerned about the risks posed by
drilling, but said that from a legal standpoint the attorney
general would absolutely have to defend the DEC's position.
"I don't care what people's positions are on the merits of
hydrofracking. If the DEC issues regulations and permits and
those regulations are challenged in court by the citizenry, the
attorney general will be defending" the DEC, Brodsky said.
Asked if that meant supporting a law he disagreed with,
Brodsky said: "Lawyers do it all the time, right?"
That sentiment was echoed by Eric Dinallo, who served as
deputy attorney general under Spitzer, but Dinallo added that
there was room for the attorney general to influence the
environmental body behind the scenes.
Jim Smith, spokesman for industry group the Independent Oil
and Gas Association of New York, said he looked forward to
bringing experts to the attorney general's office to explain
that the technology is safe and environmentally sensitive.
"Long ago, the discussion has become not about the facts
and about yelling at one another," he said.