News Item: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces the state will impose a ban on fracking, a relatively new but controversial technique of extracting oil from rock. Fracking is being used in numerous states, including New York’s neighbor, Pennsylvania.
What’s wrong or right with fracking?
I don’t know and I don’t profess to know. However, what’s wrong with Governor Cuomo is an easy one; it is a common problem of professional politicians ducking issues, of not telling the voters where they stand. The governor, who delayed and delayed making a ruling on the controversial oil extraction technique, finally said fracking was an environmental nightmare. However, the controversy stems less from what the governor did, then the way he did it.
He did it disingenuously, the way many pols operate. It is the reason why politicians rate so low with Americans in public opinion polls.
He banned fracking just after he was safely, and overwhelmingly, re-elected. Actually, he had his state environmental commissioner announce the decision (The commissioner serves at the governor’s pleasure). The governor then also said he had nothing to do with the commissioner’s ruling, which is risible.
This public announcement came after a lackluster gubernatorial campaign. It was a campaign in which the governor began with the incredible advantages of incumbency, especially tons of money. It was a campaign in which the governor refused to debate his primary opponent. Then the governor hemmed and hawed about general election debates. Finally, reluctantly, he decided only to debate his general election opponents once. He made sure not to have a one on one with his republican opponent, who had the only chance of actually defeating him.
The issue of fracking, which is vital for many New Yorkers, especially those living upstate in often depressed circumstances, was hardly discussed in the campaign. That’s because the governor continually said it was under review.
Fracking, as with so many other economic issues, should have been thoroughly discussed. It should have been part of an extensive series of debates that gave voters insights into where all of the candidates stood. These are points that I have previously mentioned in these pages a month or so ago. If we don’t have a debate on fracking, its environmental and economic implications as well as the economic future of the state, then what was the point of the election campaign?
The state of New York had studied fracking for years and the governor could have easily discussed this matter in detail during the campaign. He chose not to do so. And whatever his position, pro or con, the voters were at a disadvantage.
Governor Cuomo could have given everyone his reasons for opposing it as well as his ideas on what could be done to help upstate, much of which wants fracking. In New York State, downstate, New York City and the immediate suburbs, is doing fine. That’s provided, of course, that the Big Apple’s pols don’t, once again, spend the city into a financial crisis. Downstate has the stock market and much of the financial services industry, big taxpaying businesses that much of upstate lacks.
Indeed, upstate, over the last generation has lost much of its manufacturing base. It departed New York for less taxing places just as many middle-class residents have. The governor’s after the election decision left numerous upstate local officials fuming. They see fracking going on profitably just across its border. Indeed, one New York township official, when he heard of Governor Cuomo’s decision, said his municipality should succeed from New York and join Pennsylvania. That’s where fracking is creating tens of thousands of jobs.
Again, I will not vouch for the safety of fracking. I don’t have the expertise to offer an intelligent opinion. But that is not the point. The point is for each state to have an intelligent and extensive discussion of economic issues. That’s what a federalist system is about.
I am very grateful for the wisdom of the founding fathers. They gave us in the original constitution a federalist system. This is a de-centralized system that—at least in theory—was not intended to give all power to central government, which, in the late 18th century, was viewed warily by many states as it is today. This fear of too much power in the hands of the central government, a government that can crush local power, is one of the longest running themes in history.
You see it in many of the civil wars of Mexico. You see it in Spain today, where power has been devolved to many autonomous regions and yet still Catalonia calls for independence. You see it in Canada, where Quebec has talked about succession. You see it in the United Kingdom. It recently came within an eyelash of becoming the Dis-United Kingdom when Scotland decided to stay. The American founding fathers were aware of the dangers of too much power in the central government and created a federal system that was much praised by the great historian of freedom, Lord Acton.
This original American constitutional system allows for experimentation. States can, and should, continue to control much of their economic destiny. That is why the last election here in New York, one in which many voters stayed home, should have been a forum for where the state’s economy is going and why we can’t obtain the growth of other states, many of which are embracing fracking.
Some states frack. Others opt not to do so. By the way, in many of the states that frack, there has been an economic boom—-in the Dakotas, for example, there is very little unemployment—-and, so far, no major environmental disasters. Many New Yorkers, in a state with patches of high unemployment, look at that industry and believe it can save the state.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re not. The negative response is based on the recent precipitous drop in the price of oil. However, whichever side you are on it is difficult to disagree with this: Politicians, especially those asking for a new term, owe it to the voters to say clearly where they stand on the vital economic issues that affect their lives and the lives of their children. They need to show us how they believe that a state can thrive. They need to know it before they vote.
Pols who can’t meet that standard for clarity, whether of the left or the right, deserve to be sent back to the private sector. However, for some careerist pols it would be a sobering experience. Some of them have never spent ten minutes in the private sector, which I think is a big problem (How can you legislate for an economy that you know nothing about?).
Still, it might be a good experience. These pols, if they were shown the door by the public and if they ended up trying to start a business, just might just learn that excessive taxes and regulations make millions of lives more and more difficult. They just might conclude that taxes and regulations on top of regulations are ruining our economy and, in some cases, our lives.
They might finally understand why so many Americans are sick of politicians.