Reed gets bombarded with fracking questions
PENN YAN—Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning) intended to take questions regarding the national economic problems during the community meeting he held at the Penn Yan Village Hall on Saturday, Jan. 28. However, he ended up encountering some contentious opposition from residents against hydrofracking in the area.
Around 50 members of the public filled the village hall for the hour and 15 minutes long meeting. One resident asked the congressman if he had been accepting money from natural gas industries. Reed said he had taken money from gas companies, but that it did not influence his stance on gas drilling. When another member in the audience asked why he would take the money, the congressman said that in this economy, any money is essential to his campaign seeking re-election this coming November.
In terms of his position on hydrofracking, Reed began by saying he feels the worst politicians are the ones who “dance around issues.” He said that when he addresses political topics, “what you see is what you get” and that he will accurately give his opinion even if his constituents disagree. Reed told the audience that he has come to the conclusion that gas drilling is safe. He stressed that he has been doing research on the matter and has made visits to the northern tier of Pennsylvania where drilling has already taken place.
Reed stated that even President Barack Obama, who usually opposes big oil industries, believes the gas drilling is safe. The congressman also said he felt fracking would not ruin the water in the Finger Lakes region. He noted that he has a family cottage on Keuka Lake and that his children swim there.
However, Reed’s assertions that drilling is not dangerous could not keep residents from bombarding him with their concerns on the issue. One resident stressed concerns about disasters occurring if future drilling occurs and there are errors in the process. “What about earthquakes?” she asked. “All it takes is one mistake.” She also stated that Reed owning a house on Keuka Lake did not ease any of her worries and said it would be no big deal for him if the water was damaged since he could sell the house. On top of that, she told the congressman, “I guarantee you will not be re-elected if you do not change your stance on this issue.”
Penn Yan resident Jim Bobreski expressed uncertainty about whether N.Y. State and the Finger Lakes region would actually benefit economically from fracking even if there were no environmental concerns. He said that in Pennsylvania, the gas industry is not even the dominating business. Instead it is the cement industry. Bobreski noted that the state’s capital, Harrisburg, is practically bankrupt. He also said there are concerns about whether or not the jobs created would be permanent and if there would even be livable salaries. Debra Reynolds, who lives on Keuka Lake, chimed in saying there is no way to estimate the amount of jobs and money drilling could bring to N.Y. State.
Reed said he did not have exact numbers on jobs or financial gains that the state would encounter from drilling. However, he did stress that natural gas is an important resource. Reed said that the gas generated from drilling could be sold in the area and exported to help bring in money. “It is about doing best for the 700,000 people I represent,” he said. Bobreski said he agreed that gas is an important utility, but the problem is that most of it can’t be used for vehicles. He explained to Reed that only a 10th of all cars could handle the natural gas that comes from drilling.
The lawmaker was also asked if he would support implying the same watershed protection to the Finger Lakes region that is given to New York City and Syracuse. Reed said he understands why there are feelings of uniqueness towards the Finger Lakes area, especially with the wineries and drinking water from the lakes. However, he also explained that he “believes in state regulation” and the approach to drilling is a state decision. Reynolds expressed outrage that Reed was not reaching out to the people he represents. “This is a joke,” she stated as she walked out of the meeting room. “He is not talking to his constituents.”
In other business:
• Former Town of Milo Supervisor John Socha said another issue that residents are worried about is the AES-owned Greenidge coal fired plant in Dresden. Socha said it was a clean plant, but coal could not be bid for competitively since its prices are so much higher than gas so it had to close down. He explained the village of Dresden and town of Torrey are hurting from the plant closing because AES wants to cut its tax payments on it and asked Reed if anything could be done. Reed said he would take a closer look at the issue.
• Reed discussed what he feels should be done to better the economy on a national level. He explained that national debt has reached $15 trillion and the unemployment rate is around 9 percent. One important thing Reed stressed was removing excessive regulation and the government staying out of the way of businesses trying to build themselves up. He also opposed more taxation as he felt it would not create more jobs. Reed also said protecting social security is very important. He explained that 30 percent of doctors could lose their jobs if medicine is not protected which would mean less access to services for senior citizens.
• Cookie Brooks expressed concern about the U.S. Department of Agriculture potentially closing the Yates County Farm Service Agency. Brooks, who is the chair of the agency’s committee, explained that while around $25,000 could be saved; consolidating with another branch of the agency would add extra travel burdens to local farmers. Brooks also noted that it would really be strenuous for the Mennonite families in the area. Reed agreed with Brooks and added that the closest branch to consolidate with would be in Bath. He also stressed his opposition to the Yates County branch closing because farmers are critical to districts and it is wrong for them to travel extra distances. Reed said that while certain programs need to be cut due to the tight economy, it has to be done in a smart manner.
• Bill Burg, who said he is a small business owner in Penn Yan, expressed concern about the talk of the federal minimum wage, which is currently $7.25 per hour, being raised. Burg said he is not against paying workers more money, but there are obstacles that could occur from raising the current rate such as not being able to pay all employees. Reed agreed and said he also feels the minimum wage should stay as is.