Perhaps no other issue has riled environmentalists more feverishly than the prospect of large scale hydrologic fracturing in New York. The natural gas extraction process known colloquially as “fracking” shatters the earth’s deep rock sediments, unleashing natural gas wells that seep to the surface through wells that are drilled deep below ground water.
Geological scientists attribute recent earthquakes that have rocked Oklahoma to the drilling process. In Pennsylvania, the wide-scale adoption of the process has lead to serious contamination of the state’s watershed.
In the State Senate’s 60th district, Senator Al Coppola is the only unequivocal no-vote on the issue. The long-retired Senator and Delaware district councilman represented his North Buffalo neighborhood for over 20 years, and was widely regarded as “Buffalo’s last honest politician.”
Coppola co-founded the Energy Cooperative of America, and continues to serve on its board of directors even into retirement. He has been a longtime environmental advocate who helped residents of the Columbus Park neighborhood, with Dr. Jameson S. Lwebuga-Mukasa, expose a staggering public health crisis that the Peace Bridge Authority didn’t want residents to know about.
Many of Coppola’s opponents stand in stark policy contrast.
“Mark Grisanti has refused to address the plastic micro-beads that are polluting the Great Lakes. He won’t look at the issue until next year. He is the Chairman of the Environment Committee — and he should act like it,” Senator Coppola says. “It’s been fours years and he still hasn’t given us a clear answer whether he supports or opposes hydrofracking.”
For the last four years, State Senator Mark Grisanti has served as Chairman of the Environmental Committee — and has largely avoided the issue of hydrofacking. Of course, the industry has been lobbying hard for the entirety of his short tenure. Lots of campaign cash and the finest wining and dining that Albany can offer is surely heading Grisanti’s way — so the morally challenged among us can understand Grisanti’s reluctance to vote no on the issue.
Republican Kevin Stocker, an attorney in private practice who formerly served as a Town Prosecutor, is open to considering the process, if heavily regulated. Stocker has been leading in all polling conducted for the primary contest since the passage of the so-called NYSAFE Act, which Grisanti was instrumental in helping the Governor to pass.
Since then, Grisanti has been deeply unpopular — especially among GOP primary voters. Among most political observers he is expected to lose. But then enters Rus Thompson, the Tea Party organizer and political protégé of Carl Paladino, a registered Independent with the authorization of Chairman Nicholas Langworthy to run on the GOP line (in an apparent attempt to play defense for the incumbent by siphoning votes from Stocker). Grisanti is still likely to lose, but the race may become a close one if Thompson ever learns how to ware a suit.
Buffalo-area Democrat Marc Panepinto, who two years ago raised over $50,000 for a supposed candidacy, claims he is running again despite seemingly lackluster support. Two years ago he withdrew from the race quickly after being bogged by questions relating to a previous election law conviction that caused him to lose his law license for a year. He has said publicly that he regrets producing fraudulent voter petitions. Panepinto is married to State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto.
Operatives expect that the conviction for election fraud will again haunt his chances of getting through a tough Democratic primary against Coppola, a known and experienced elder statesmen of local politics.
There is also widespread suspicion that Panepinto may be planning on vacating the ballot, so that his committee on vacancies could appoint Grisanti as the Democratic Party’s nominee in the general election. But Panepinto must first win the primary.
Grisanti’s consiglio, the lobbyist Joel Giambra, has traditionally brokered these types of political dealings for the Senator. In light of the recent announcement that Senator Jeff Klein, who chairs the Independent Democratic Caucus, will rejoin the Democratic caucus, the GOP will likely become the minority party after the next election. Both men are inclined to follow the money that comes with caucusing in the majority: staff allocations, earmarks, special interest money, and the salary add-ons and other perks that come with committee chairmanships.