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Long Island protesters send Cuomo a message: Ban fracking, veto LNG terminal

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Chanting "Hey hey Cuo-mo, hydrofracking’s got to go," more than 100 Long Island protesters stood outside the Crest Hollow Country Club, Woodbury, Long Island, where New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo was expected to attend a Nassau county Democrats' fundraiser honoring retiring Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy to demand he ban fracking and veto the Port Ambrose LNG terminal proposed just off Long Island's south shore.

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With banners that said "We will remember in 2014" they vowed to hold him accountable in his reelection campaign.

Cuomo didn't show - he remained in Albany for the crucial March 31 deadline to pass the state budget on time but spoke to the crowded audience, which included Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Steve Israel, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli via telephone. The issue of fracking did not come up, even as Governor Cuomo extolled his progressive successes (marriage equality, the SAFE Act gun control legislation, and items that were featured in the new budget including universal pre-K).

The protesters outside, though, did not know he wasn't coming, and anxiously waited in unseasonably cold temperatures to shout out their message, as Eric Weltman, Senior Organizer for Food & Water Watch in New York, led the protesters in a call-and-response with the refrain, "Don't frack New York":

Protect our children, Don’t frack New York

Our future, Don’t frack New York

Our air, Don’t frack New York

Our water, Don’t frack New York

Our climate, Don’t frack New York.

"Governor Cuomo needs to see that opposition to fracking is widespread and will continue growing as New Yorkers learn more and more about the many dangers gas development brings to communities large and small," stated Alex Beauchamp, regional director at Food & Water Watch, a consumer rights group. "We need him to protect our state and we'll follow him everywhere he goes - especially as his reelection campaign heats up - until he bans fracking once and for all."

True enough, the activists waving their placards were amid a sea of Cuomo 2014 signs planted along the curb of the busy Jericho Turnpike.

With the audience at the Nassau Democratic gala including federal lawmakers, Seth Gladstone, Communications Manager, Eastern Region, for Food & Water Watch, noted that Food & Water Watch, which is part of the national coalition, Americans Against Fracking, hopes to turn the Obama Administration and federal officials away from reversing course on boosting natural gas production as the "bridge" fuel from oil and coal.

As the New York Times wrote the day after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released its most powerful and sobering assessment so far of the consequences of a warming planet, "natural gas, as a fuel, is much cleaner than coal. But methane is a powerful atmospheric pollutant, 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and thus a major driver of global warming."

"We are pressuring federal leaders, particularly Obama Administration to reverse course. The President is foolishly pursuing fracking," Gladstone said, shortly before Congressman Steve Israel's car pulled up to the protesters, on the way into the venue.

This opposition to fracking and the policies which encourage development of natural gas as a "bridge fuel" rather than investing in an energy economy based on renewables, comes together in the group's vigorous opposition to the construction of the Port Ambrose LNG (Liquid Nitrogen Gas) terminal in the Atlantic, south of Long Beach.

"Port Ambrose is initiated by the federal government, but both [Governors] Cuomo and Christie – two locals – can veto it.

"We are here today to urge Cuomo to veto Port Ambrose outright and put an end to that threat. It is well within his purview."

Presently, the LNG port is pitched to import natural gas from the Caribbean - but that makes no sense since the US currently has a glut of natural gas and has become an exporter.

The activists see the pitch to import natural gas - ostensibly to make supplies more consistent and cheaper - as a Trojan horse. Presently, America has an abundance of natural gas, but prices are higher overseas - in China and Europe - and the likelihood is that the Oil and Gas companies will export, further pushing up domestic prices as the US market now has to compete in a global market.

"The danger is that once the so-called import terminal is approved, it can easily be converted to export without additional public review or process," Gladstone said.

Indeed, he points to the Boston LNG import terminal which has remained dormant because there is no demand for imported natural gas.

And yet, Republican lawmakers in Congress have pointed to the potential of converting the terminals from import to export in order to give the US more leverage over Russia, which presently exerts undue influence in Europe because it is the major supplier of Europe's natural gas.

"The real concern is that oil and gas industry would try to drum up support for their profiteering motives –when any export hurts us here at home for the sake of oil and gas profits, internationally.

What is more, if the Port Ambrose LNG terminal is built, it may well dash any hope for a wind farm in one of the best locations in the US, which could supply the bulk of Long Island's electricity.

"A LNG port off Long Island would quickly be converted to an export facility, which would result in the transport of fracked gas through Manhattan, across Long Island and out to sea, representing a prime target for terrorism and a danger to our fishing and tourism industries," said Lisa Oldendorp, regional organizer with MoveOn.org. "No to fracking in New York, and no to a LNG port off Long Island."

"Governor Cuomo has the opportunity to protect New Yorkers by saying 'no' to fracking and 'no' to the ill-conceived Port Ambrose LNG facility off of Jones Beach, one of Long Island's treasures," added Adam Garfield, project coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).

Protester Patty Katz of Great Neck-based Reach Out America also cited the risks to communities because of fracking and reliance on natural gas. "How many more explosions, earthquakes, leaks will it take? And now they will come to Long Beach and ruin our beach?"

"And we don’t want our children, grand children, poisoned." Harriett Becker, of Great Neck, added.

Katz had been aboard a bus trip organized by Food & Water Watch to a community in Pennsylvania and saw first-hand how it had been blighted by natural gas drilling.

As fracking and natural gas operations have expanded in other states, they have increasingly been accompanied by serious disaster sand emergencies. Just weeks ago in Pennsylvania, a natural gas well exploded, killing a worker, shaking homes, sparking a fire that burned for four days, and emitting gas into the atmosphere In July in West Virginia, a fracking explosion injured at least five people and led to state and federal investigations.

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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