Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fwd: [Unconstitutional Pipeline] LTE on Michael Zagata

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Adrian Kuzminski 
Date: Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 1:58 PM
Subject:LTE on Michael Zagata

This letter was published in the Freemans Journal, 24 July 2014. FYI.



To the Editor:

Your recent laudatory and seemingly never-ending profile of pro-fracker and former DEC commissioner Michael Zagata ---
 quite possibly the longest article ever published in The Freeman's Journal since it began 206 years ago --- leaves readers wholly in the dark about why he has been severely criticized by environmentalists, The New York Times, and others.

In their 1997 book, The Riverkeepers, John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., pointed out that then Governor Pataki fulfilled his promise to make the DEC more "business friendly" by appointing oil company executive Zagata as DEC commissioner.  Zagata proceeded to replace DEC enforcement by industry "self-policing." He dramatically reduced factory inspections, sped issuance of pollution permits by "steamrolling public participation requirements," and ordered inspectors to give six month warnings instead of issuing tickets for "environmental crime." Zagata cut the legal staff by 25%, firing "virtually all of the agencies' pollution litigators." The DEC's principal litigator, Chuck Dworkin, fired by Zagata, stated that "after the purge, everyone put their heads down and stopped enforcing. Now the big companies know they can thumb their noses at the regulated."

As a result, the authors wrote, Zagata "quickly endeared himself to the worse polluters of New York State," the worst of all being GE. At the time GE was facing up to $20 million in penalties for illegal conduct at its Waterford plant above Albany, which DEC counsel Joseph Kowalczyk called "the second most significant hazardous waste problem in the state." After a "secret meeting" with GE, a deal was struck in which the DEC dropped all charges and claims, GE received some tax write offs, and the company got insulated from further lawsuits. GE in return agreed to spend $1.5 million on environmental benefit programs, including building a boat launch on the Hudson conveniently near Zagata's upstate home.

Zagata's anti-environmental views were clear to many, including The New York Times, even before his appointment. In an 18 February 1995 piece, the Times described Zataga as "as inappropriate choice to be chief steward of the state's threatened natural resources." The Times reminded its readers that Zagata advocated opening up "the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling." The Times also took Zagata to task for supporting "a misguided concept called 'mitigation banking,' which would allow companies to develop protected wetlands on the promise to create new, ecologically suspect sanctuaries."

Zagata eventually got into trouble for personal use of DEC vehicles and was forced out of office to a state-wide chorus of "Zagatago!"  But what is far worse was his consistent record of promoting a mindless, pro-business policy in blatant disregard of established environmental standards and safeguards, and the damage that it caused. It is a sad commentary that your article distorts his public record so dramatically. 

The same week that you published your profile, the NYS Court of Appeals came down with an historic decision, upholding the home rule land use legislation of the towns of MIddlefield and Dryden to ban fracking in their communities. Your coverage of this landmark case in the Freeman's Journal was swamped by your paean to Zagata, while in your spinoff Hometown Oneonta, the landmark case was further reduced to a brief recognition, with your Zagata puff piece even more dominant.

It is deeply troubling that a court decision of great significance affecting not only the future of the natural gas industry in NYS, but perhaps nationally and beyond, was given such short-shrift in your newspaper. This was an event unparalleled in local and state history, deserving perhaps of a special edition of your newspaper, given that resistance to fracking in our area involved hundreds and hundreds of local activists who mobilized thousands of others in unprecedented fashion to persuade 10 municipalities in Otsego County and beyond to resist just the sort of corporate intrusion that Zagata welcomed.  All of which calls into question not only your editor's journalistic judgement on of what constitutes important news, but where he stands on vital energy issues.

Adrian Kuzminski
Moderator, Sustainable Otsego

Robert H. Boyle
Founder, Riverkeeper and The Hudson River Foundation for Science and Environmental Research 

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