ALBANY, NY (TIP): The departure of Nirav Shah as state health commissioner means he will hand off the lengthy review that has allowed Governor Andrew Cuomo to put off making a decision on whether to allow hydrofracking in New York. Shah’s three-year tenure as state health commissioner will come to an end in June, when he will be replaced by first deputy commissioner Howard Zucker.
The only two people who can know for sure whether Shah’s departure will have any effect on Cuomo’s decision to approve or reject high-volume hydraulic fracturing are the governor and Shah himself. On Thursday, April 10, neither man had much to say about the review, which is being watched nationally. Lawmakers are considering bans in other states, including California and Colorado, where the industry already is well established. Shah said he still had time to make progress. “It’s a work in progress,” he said, referring to the long-awaited study, as he hurried through the Capital corridors Thursday.
“I’m not gone yet.” Shah said he was sure the Cuomo administration would continue to “surprise and impress folks.” He said his departure for a job as an executive at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Southern California was the right thing for his family. Cuomo said it was about money. “The salaries are a real problem in state government,” Cuomo said at an editorial board meeting with the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on Thursday morning. “You know, you want one of the best health professionals in the country as the health commissioner. You don’t get that for $130,000.
You just don’t. And then you tell the person work seven days a week and you can’t have any other outside income, and people can only do it for a period of time.” Cuomo also declined to elaborate on what Shah’s departure would mean for the closely watched study. He repeated his claims that the health review was ongoing, without a timeline, and that he was not going to pressure anyone for a result, regardless of Shah’s departure. The attenuated study is almost universally regarded as a political shield that allows Cuomo to put off what would be, either way, a controversial decision, at least until after Election Day. By now, the arguments for and against fracking are well-worn.
Those who support fracking say it will bring more than 25,000 jobs to the state and infuse communities with a strong tax base in parts of the state that have seen industry depart for a generation. Those who oppose fracking say it will taint the water supply, increase air pollution and put the state’s agriculture industry at risk. Studies that declare fracking dangerous to human health, or by contrast, relatively innocuous, come out seemingly every week. Shah has purportedly been reviewing all of them, traveling the country to explore fracking in other states, and has said that dozens of his employees have worked at one time or another on the review.