Pete Grannis, the ousted former leader of the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, has joined an Albany conservation watchdog group that has criticized cutbacks at the agency and questioned the state's ability to regulate natural gas extraction upstate.

Grannis' appointment as special counsel to Environmental Advocates of New York comes as the state plans to lay off about 140 DEC employees by the end of the year. Gov. David Paterson fired Grannis in October for insubordination after an agency memo was leaked to the press that said more cuts would cripple the state's ability to protect public health and the environment.

A former state Assemblyman who began his state career as an attorney at the DEC, Grannis will now advise Environmental Advocates on state environmental policy and lobbying the state legislature, according to a news release the group released Monday.

"He not only brings a seasoned perspective on the issues, but in-depth and invaluable knowledge about how state government works and how it should work," said executive director Robert Moore.

The announcement followed upheaval this past weekend over high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a controversial method of extracting natural gas deposits upstate. Some advocates and residents say chemicals used during fracking could endanger drinking water supplies.

On Saturday, Paterson vetoed a bill that would have imposed a moratorium on all new oil and gas drilling permits through next May. In its place, he signed an executive order that put a temporary hold on fracking involving horizontal drilling while the DEC conducts a further review of the practice in the Marcellus Shale gas deposits.

Paterson's move elicited mixed responses from lawmakers, advocates and industry groups.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York praised the veto, saying Saturday that the bill was "flawed" and would have cost jobs by shutting down a number of ongoing drilling operations upstate.

Assemb. Bob Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement Saturday that Paterson's actions seem "to imply that he is more concerned with the profits of oil and gas companies than the safety of our drinking water and the health of our environment."

A release issued this weekend by Grannis' new employer, Environmental Advocates, said the temporary timeout will help protect drinking water but called on incoming Governor Andrew Cuomo to "fix the loophole" that allows vertical drilling to move forward.

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