With His Fracking Decision Looming, Gov. Cuomo's Political Future Hangs in the Balance

In this Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 photo, oil field equipment silhouetted against the sky near Medicine Lodge, Kan. An emerging o
In this Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 photo, oil field equipment silhouetted against the sky near Medicine Lodge, Kan. An emerging oil boom has been sparked by modern technologies using horizontal drilling and a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to coax out oil and gas. The potential production from the Mississippian Lime formation here - and its impact on domestic energy supplies - remains uncertain. But the use of the technology to unlock energy supplies previously unavailable in the United States is now in play in places like Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

For many months, New York activists have followed Gov. Cuomo wherever he goes to deliver a simple message: ban fracking in the state. Just a few weeks ago hundreds of marchers surrounded the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where the governor was holding a high-dollar birthday fundraiser, to remind him and his moneyed allies that grassroots voices were everywhere. Even the governor's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, had to weave through the feisty crowd to get inside. Just a few days later, thousands of New Yorkers gathered for the largest demonstration outside a State of the State address that Albany reporters and officials could remember seeing. Attendees to the governor's speech were forced to walk a gauntlet past a quarter-mile of anti-fracking activists before entering. To close that week, hundreds of activists accompanied Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon as they delivered more than 200,000 public comments filed in opposition to the Cuomo administration's new proposed fracking regulations.

Despite this massive show of public opposition, Gov. Cuomo is still trying to figure out how to get away with fracking New York. Shockingly, an administration so famous for its sharp political acumen somehow thinks it can thread the needle and allow fracking without infuriating the progressive base it needs for its future. The administration has already floated numerous compromise plans, from declaring that certain urban watersheds will be off limits to drilling, to the "sacrifice zone" plan that would limit fracking to five Southern Tier counties. But notwithstanding this political maneuvering, common sense dictates that the devastating consequences of fracking won't confine themselves to county lines or underground watershed boundaries. The latest polls show that a majority of New Yorkers now see the obvious: that there is no such thing as safe fracking.

That said, the ever-growing anti-fracking movement isn't going anywhere, regardless of what Gov. Cuomo decides. If the administration thinks it can bite the bullet -- allow drilling, take the short-term political hit and move on -- it's got another thing coming. Any decision to allow drilling in New York will have grave and long-term political consequences. The anti-fracking movement is the largest and most well-organized environmental movement in a generation. Indeed, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. recently said, "In 30 years I have not seen anything come close to this in terms of mobilization of the grass-roots." A movement like this won't forgive Gov. Cuomo for risking New Yorkers' health and safety, and it certainly won't forget. Already, thousands have pledged to take action and engage in various forms of resistance if fracking is allowed. Drilling won't signal the end of the anti-fracking movement in New York; it would simply spell the end of the beginning.

We know fracking isn't safe. We know it poses serious risks to human health, drinking water, air quality, property values, and to our climate. It inevitably produces serious accidents and death. And when this happens in New York, Gov. Cuomo will have no one but himself to blame. He won't be able to point the finger at his predecessors or at the legislature. To borrow a phrase, he is the decider. If he fracks New York, he alone will own the damage and destruction it will bring. No presidential candidate would want that on his or her record. Keeping fracking out of New York is the right thing to do, but it's also the politically smart choice.