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Fracking views separate candidates for governor

Republican challenger Rob Astorino, left, would promote drilling

Republican challenger Rob Astorino, left, would promote drilling for natural gas to promote jobs. Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after three years of consideration, hasn't made up his mind. Credit: AP

ALBANY -- Few issues more clearly separate the candidates for governor than the proposal to drill for natural gas upstate.

Democratic candidate for governor Zephyr Teachout said Wednesday she would ban gas drilling because it threatens the environment. Republican Rob Astorino would promote it to boost jobs. Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, after three years of consideration, hasn't made up his mind.

"We are going to ban fracking and we are going to build solar and water and wind and be the leader in the country in renewable energy," Teachout said Wednesday. It was one of her final policy speeches before the Democratic primary against Cuomo on Tuesday.

Teachout, a Fordham law professor, was in Manhattan accepting the endorsement of actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, one of many celebrities involved in the 5-year-old battle over fracking upstate. Opponents include Artists Against Fracking formed by Yoko Ono.

More than two dozen states permit drilling in the massive Marcellus Shale deposit. Job growth in neighboring Pennsylvania, for instance, is the envy of many in New York's Southern Tier, which has been in an economic slump for decades.

Cuomo has said he would make a decision based on science and health considerations, not politics. In March 2013, his health commissioner said he expected to complete a new study ordered by Cuomo "in weeks."

Asked last month where the issue stood, Cuomo responded: "There's nothing new on fracking."

No announcement of a decision is scheduled before Election Day.

A Siena College Research Institute poll in July showed the stickiness of the issue for politicians. New Yorkers were split, with liberal Democrats who dominate primary voting and who have long been part of Cuomo's base the most opposed to fracking.

"It is the kind of issue that is a lose-lose for elected officials and politicians," said Siena's Steven Greenberg. "No matter what position the official or candidate takes, he or she will disappoint as many voters as he or she makes happy."

Cuomo "is solid frozen in fear of Yoko Ono," said Astorino, the Westchester County executive.

"It's a major issue and the governor has punted for political reasons," he said.

"It can be done safely," Astorino said in a recent interview. "We will address those issues . . . [but] it can bring millions of dollars if not billions of dollars" to New York.

Opponents and proponents alike use studies to support their positions.

Teachout said yesterday that there have been more than 200 cases of water contamination related to fracking in Pennsylvania.

The business group Unshackle Upstate says that, based on Pennsylvania's experience, about 15,000 fracking jobs with an average wage of $90,000 could be created.

President Barack Obama dialed up the pressure on fellow Democrats in his 2013 State of the Union speech when he called safe hydrofracking "the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change."

So far, however, New Yorkers aren't getting a debate from the candidates on this or any issue. Cuomo has refused to debate Teachout for the primary and hasn't committed to any debates with Astorino. He argues that debates aren't always useful for voters.

Cuomo has $30 million more in his campaign fund than Teachout and Astorino. A debate would provide Teachout and Astorino name recognition that their campaigns can't afford to develop in TV ads.

"Our opponents have repeatedly refused to debate us," said Teachout's running mate, Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor. "They refuse to even utter our names . . . they have made a mockery of this primary."

With Emily Ngo

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