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A sampling of editorials from around New York

Associated Press Published: November 21, 2012
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Post on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's latest comments on hydraulic fracturing.

Nov. 21.

The fix is in; the frack may be out.

Gov. Cuomo confirmed yesterday what nearly everybody suspected: With a three-person panel of health experts named just last week, the state will now miss the Nov. 29 deadline for the Department of Environmental Conservation to issue regulations for the natural-gas extraction process called hydrofracturing, i.e. fracking.

"I don't see how they are going to make a deadline by next week and do it properly," Cuomo told Post state columnist Fredric U. Dicker's radio show.

Ah, as the feet drag.

Cuomo has been talking a responsible fracking game for years now, but this delay could invite another public comment period — translating into further delay, possibly leading to the state's four-year-plus moratorium on fracking never being lifted.

Perhaps that's what the governor wants?

Cuomo sure sounded yesterday like he was now buying into much of the anti-fracking movement's rhetoric: "People don't want to be poisoned," he said, adding, "There's a fear of poisoning."

Seriously? Even the enviro-extremists at the U.S. EPA reject the idea that fracking is unsafe.

He's even dismissing fracking's economic benefits for the economically depressed Upstate region: "There's a great number of people who say jobs aren't going to happen either," asserted the governor.

Pennsylvania's fracking-generated jobs explosion undercuts that argument.

Actually, Cuomo's stalling speaks for itself — and his actual comments amount to prospective rationalizations.

Maybe that's why he also expressed full confidence in a special health-impact study panel that he introduced into the process last week.

Talk about stacked against fracking!

In a Monday letter to Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, who selected the health-review panel, Lee Fuller, executive director of Energy in Depth, notes the public history of the three panelists:

—Lynn Goldman of George Washington University has warned of "troubling health risks in communities near fracking operations . . . toxic chemicals in the water, polluted air and even seismic activity."

—UCLA's Richard Jackson alleges "serious worker exposures . . . will likely cause sillicosis and other lethal diseases."

—John Adgate of the Colorado School of Public Health helped conduct an error-filled study on fracking ultimately dismissed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Sure doesn't exactly sound like an "objective" panel.

So, is the fix in?

Inaction can speak louder than words, too.

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The Buffalo News on the Thruway Authority's proposal to raise tolls for trucks.

Nov. 20.

You know things are bad when the vice chairwoman blasts the New York State Thruway Authority board, and has good reason to do so.

Donna Luh is outraged at the blatant lack of transparency surrounding the authority's ill-forged idea of a 45 percent toll hike for trucks. Tempers are rising after the authority postponed two meetings on the toll hike at the last minute. Luh blew her fuse the other day when word of postponing a board meeting wasn't sent out until after 9 p.m. the night before. The words, "Are you kidding?" crept into her mind, she told The News.

That's what the public wants to know when it comes to this preposterous proposal. A 45 percent toll hike — when tolls were supposed to have been eliminated in 1996, when the highway's original construction debt was paid — is ridiculous. And so is the board meeting shuffle going on that has Luh so upset.

Luh says she's even beginning to think that the 45 percent figure isn't what this state needs. She's not alone.

From truckers to Unshackle Upstate, everyone wants to know what Thruway Authority officials are thinking, other than using the threat of a sky-high increase to ease the eventual blow of, say, a 35 percent increase. Who knows? The Cuomo administration hopes to raise $90 million in additional revenue for the Thruway Authority. One theory is that it can then skip over to the bond market to help finance a $5 billion Thruway bridge project over the Hudson River between Westchester and Rockland counties.

Voila! Or, not.

The New York State Motor Truck Association insists that a 45 percent toll hike would cripple some firms and most assuredly result in trucking companies and their clients passing along the cost of the toll increase to consumers. Or some truckers could decide not to take the Thruway, cutting into the anticipated revenue stream.

There are ways around this mess, involving some belt-tightening and getting rid of onerous expenses such as the maintenance costs of a non-Thruway highway in Westchester County and perhaps the biggest farce, the state's money-losing canal system.

The bad idea of using Thruway tolls to pay for the canal was most recently pointed out by State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma. The Thruway and canal system were joined 20 years ago during the administration of the governor's father, Mario M. Cuomo, as part of a scheme to help balance the state's general fund.

Gallivan has noted that Thruway traffic is down 10 percent in the past seven years while the authority's expenses have risen 20 percent.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli gets extra credit for being at the forefront of the opposition to the toll hike. He is calling on the authority to look for savings by improving its management of the system.

That work involves eliminating vacant positions, reducing overtime and marketing unused property for sale or lease. DiNapoli also cites a recent analysis by auditors in his department that showed more could be done to collect millions of dollars in E-ZPass tolls and fees that go unpaid.

It's time for the Thruway Authority to put the brakes on a bad idea.

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The New York Times on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Michigan's affirmative action policies.

Nov. 20

In a persuasive ruling last week, a majority of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Michigan's ban on race-conscious affirmative action policies. The ban violated the United States Constitution's equal protection clause by placing an unfair burden on racial minorities seeking to change those policies.

The ban, known as Proposal 2 and approved in a state referendum in 2006, amended the State Constitution to "prohibit all sex- and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting."

The court's 8-to-7 decision focused not on admissions policies per se but on the fact that the process by which the ban was approved — the referendum leading to a constitutional amendment — would inevitably require people who wished to reverse it "to surmount more formidable obstacles than those faced by other groups to achieve their political objectives."

Writing for the majority, Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. argued that a black student seeking a race-conscious admissions policy would have to undertake the "long, expensive and arduous process" of amending the state constitution all over again. But students seeking to change other admissions policies — for example, to favor applicants whose relatives attended the school — could resort to a variety of readily available means, including lobbying the admissions committee or the university's leaders.

"The existence of such a comparative structural burden," Judge Cole wrote, "undermines the equal protection clause's guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change."

The result of the court's sound ruling is a level playing field, as the Constitution demands. But the issue may not be settled. The Ninth Circuit has upheld a California affirmative-action ban that was a model for Michigan's. With a conflict in the circuits on this issue, the Supreme Court may be persuaded it is ripe for review.

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The Times Union of Albany on government's handling of post-Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts.

Nov. 14.

The devastation that remains from Superstorm Sandy can't be overstated. Two weeks after Sandy slammed into the Northeast, more than 50,000 homes and businesses remain without power. Early estimates put the damage in three states at $50 billion.

The magnitude of the crisis demands that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his counterparts in New Jersey and Connecticut, and Congress focus on the task at hand — relieving the very real human suffering and doing all they can to help the region recover. Tragedy would be compounded if they were to turn the issue of federal aid into an occasion for haggling or ideological posturing.

There is ample precedent for us to worry about just that.

In 2001, following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, then-Gov. George Pataki made an eye-popping $54 billion request for federal aid. Mr. Pataki's request went far beyond what New York needed for that emergency. The governor larded on some $20 billion for tax incentives to lure businesses to the state and pay for subways, light rail, roads and bridges statewide. A high-speed passenger rail service between Schenectady and Manhattan was on his list.

Even with the extraordinary sympathy for all New York City had endured, even with a fellow Republican in the White House, Washington balked at Mr. Pataki's opportunism, however well-intentioned it might have been for the benefit of his state.

Listen to how one observer put it:

"When he put (out) a plan for $54 billion . and he had projects that were in no way connected to the recovery, they said, 'Here comes a local government that is looking to seize this situation for their own financial benefit,' and they recoiled."

That observer was a former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Andrew Cuomo.

Now Mr. Cuomo is governor, with a bold request of his own: $30 billion to cover the cost of Sandy. Not just 75 percent of the cost, as federal aid normally works. He wants it all covered.

If he's to make that case, the governor must remember his own political wisdom in 2001: no games. This is no time to slip pet projects onto the list, or tack on a little extra to make his 2013 budget easier. Washington has problems of its own.

As for Congress, this is not the time to get bogged down in another protracted debate over big government or the nation's debt, not when tens of thousands of Americans are suffering, many of them residents of a state already facing a deficit next year that is hardly in a position to handle this disaster on its own. Trying to score political points in such a crisis ought to be below even Washington's low bar.

If lawmakers really want to do something meaningful, they can start talking about how the nation will cope with what are expected to be more of these kinds of emergencies in the future. That starts, of course, with Republicans in particular acknowledging that a warming world, and human activity's contribution to it, is not some liberal myth, but the consensus of the vast majority of scientists. To ignore this reality in pursuit of wishful thinking is irresponsible.

Then they can start planning for appropriate government help when disaster strikes, and where the money will come from. They can talk, too, about this: Should government be in the business of helping people rebuild vulnerable homes and businesses in flood- and storm-prone coastal areas? Or does it make more sense to return such land to open space and public use? And yes, perhaps they can even have an intelligent discussion about energy policy that doesn't desperately cling to a past dependent on fossil fuels and instead seizes a more sustainable and ultimately more affordable future.

The storm has passed, and so has the election. No more time for games.

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The Watertown Daily Times on September's attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

Nov. 20.

Congressional inquiries into the attack on the Libyan consulate that claimed four American lives in September call into question claims made by President Obama and the administration about the nature of the assault on the anniversary of 9-11.

From the beginning, there appeared to be some confusion or miscommunication within the administration about whether the attack was a terrorist plot or a spontaneous demonstration similar to what had been happening in other Muslim countries in response to an online film denigrating Islam. The latter was the administration's position advanced by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on television five days after the attack in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others died.

President Obama last week angrily denounced attacks on Ambassador Rice by some members of Congress, particularly Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who said they would try to block her appointment as secretary of state if she were nominated by President Obama.

Retired CIA Director David H. Petreaus told Senate and House intelligence committees in closed-door testimony Friday that he believed almost immediately that the assault on the Benghazi consulate was an organized terrorist attack. According to reports, Mr. Petreaus also told lawmakers about the involvement of militants linked to al-Qaida.

That information was left out of a list of "talking points" prepared by the administration and apparently used by Ambassador Rice. It is not clear who may have altered the talking points. The decision may have been, as some suggest, politically motivated during the presidential campaign, or as others say, to protect anonymous intelligence sources.

Administration officials have said the conflicting comments about the attacks were based on information available at the time. But it remains unclear what the administration knew and when in determining whether it responded appropriately in a timely manner to the attacks and whether there was adequate security at the consulate.

Some details may remain classified, but the congressional investigations should answer the questions.

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