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Andrew "I'm Not a Scientist" Cuomo Listens to Scientists on Fracking

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On Wednesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on hydraulic fracturing, delivering a major victory to environmentalists over the oil and gas industry. New York's debate over fracking has dragged on for roughly six years (during this time, the state kept a moratorium on the practice). In that time, Cuomo's administration studied the economic, health, and environmental impacts of drilling for natural gas in western New York, compiling a 184-page report. The Department of Health report found "significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes" of fracking—like the public health risks of contaminated drinking water.

Fracking is a drilling process that injects a cocktail of water, sand, and chemicals into shale rock deep underground, fracturing the rock to extract oil and gas. Other Democratic-controlled states like California and Illinois have chosen to allow regulated fracking; New York pursued the stricter option.

Anyone who has listened to Cuomo recently might be surprised by his decision. That's because whenever he discussed fracking, Cuomo sounded like a Republican who says he's not a scientist on climate change. “I’m not a scientist,” Cuomo said in October. “Let the scientists decide." Cuomo repeated that line on Wednesday, saying, "I will be bound by what these experts say because I am not in a position to second guess them with my expertise. I am not a scientist." (Several weeks ago, Cuomo refused to answer a question about the causes of climate change, calling it a "political debate.")

The sentiment itself is fine—it's true that Cuomo isn't a scientist—but the refrain is usually used as an excuse for politicians to misrepresent or dismiss actual science. Cuomo seemed guilty of this on fracking: Officials provided extensive edits to a U.S. Geological Survey report that diluted the link between natural gas storage and methane pollution. The difference between Cuomo and Republicans is that he did listen to the experts in the end, who found the potential risk to health and the environment outweighed the economic benefits. He deferred to the health commissioner and environmental conservation commissioner. 

"The bottom line is we lack the comprehensive longitudinal studies, and these are either not yet complete or are yet to be initiated," Health Commisioner Howard Zucker said. "We don't have the evidence to prove or disprove the health effects. but the cumulative concerns of what I've read gives me reason to pause."