Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “People First Tour” made its way to Proctors on Friday morning, with state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens representing the governor and leading a brief PowerPoint presentation for dozens in attendance.
During Martens’ visit to Schenectady, he laid out the three themes of the governor’s agenda: getting the economy running, passing ethics reform and advancing a social agenda in keeping with this state’s history. He said the key to realizing these goals, and the reason Cuomo and his surrogates have been traveling across the state in recent weeks, is to get people excited.
“It’s to get people engaged,” Martens said. “[We’re] asking you to engage with your friends, your family and ultimately your political leaders, because those are the ones that bring the message to Albany and they’re the ones that make the decision.”
He said the public needs to voice support for tentative deals on ethics reform and property tax, which are both planned for passage before the legislative session’s scheduled end on June 20.
“Lots of things can go wrong,” Martens said. “Nothing is done in Albany until it is done … So it’s still important to make the case and stay engaged.”
This emphasis on constituent participation has been a key focus of the tour, which has drawn criticism from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, who previously said it was reminiscent of former Gov. Elliot Spitzer’s abrasive tactics.
Characterizing the passage of an on-time budget as the first step in achieving these goals, Martens argued that this represented a break from a recently inefficient period of state government and defended the cuts made to close the projected budget deficit. In terms of the impact on his department, he said the reduced budget was necessary for the state but lamented the fact that they probably won’t ever see cut funding restored.
“New York had to tighten its belt,” Martens said. “So a loss of 800 people in DEC over the last two years, while it was painful, it was absolutely necessary and we’re adjusting. We’re going to make it work without those resources.”
Martens elaborated on what the budget cuts meant to the DEC, noting that they’ve already begun eliminating activities and programs that aren’t absolutely essential. In other areas, like with the operation of environmental education facilities, they turned to nonprofit groups and local governments for help. He stressed that they remain committed to issuing permits to new businesses and ensuring the compliance with existing regulations.
Regarding the controversial environmental issue of hydrofracking, Martens said that reduced staffing would not impact the oversight function.
“It’s pretty simple, actually. We will only permit those applications that we have staff to permit. We’re not just going to wildly issue permits for everyone that applies for a permit to hydrofrack,” he said. “If the industry wants to see more of their applications dealt with, we will need more staff.”
If hydraulic fracturing for natural gas production does become a reality in the state’s Souther Tier, Martens suggested that the DEC’s staff might grow.
“We think we will have the support to get additional resources, if we proceed down that path,” he said.
Martens acknowledged the oddity of an environmental official advocating for the entire agenda but contended that a thriving state will have more resources to dedicate toward issues affecting environment. He rejected the idea that advancing economic platforms and business-friendly ideals was in opposition to his role with the DEC, which is primarily focused on keeping the environment clean.
“There shouldn’t be a conflict. It’s obviously a sensitive issue … that we have to find a certain balance, but I think people are on the same page,” he said. “On fundamental issues, environmentalists and business people agree. Business people are citizens, too. They live in New York and breathe the air.”
Categories: Schenectady County