Saturday, January 12, 2013

200,000 comments and still counting

At the end of November the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation posted three hundred-plus pages of new fracking regulations and offered a month for citizens to comment on 'em. Despite Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas and Twelfth Night, people rose to the challenge.

Yesterday environmental groups and artists carried boxes and crates full of comments - about 200,000 in all - to DEC. And that's just the ones that they collected; there are thousands more dribbling in through the US postal service, as the deadline for mailed comments was a January 11 postmark. When DEC opened up the draft SGEIS comment they garnered a fraction of that amount in thrice the time.

Where did all of these comments come from? Catskill Citizens collected nearly 24,000. Sandra Steingraber's "30 comments in 30 days" effort netted another 23,000 - or close to it and Artists against fracking collected about 22,000. A few thousand here, a couple thousand there... after awhile they add up. And those don't include the 15 pages of comments Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton sent off to Doc Martens yesterday, or the 10-page document mailed from the Tompkins County Water Resources Council.

Tom Wilber notes that, in order to respond by Feb 27, DEC staffers will have to read and sort some 4,000 comments a day. That's 400 comments an hour, he calculates - one every 10 seconds assuming 70-hour workweeks with no potty breaks. Given that some of these comments are detailed and technical, from scientists and other people who have given a lot of thought to drafting meaningful comments, one wonders whether they can be read - much less comprehended - before the end of the month. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Will DEC extend the deadline? Will they hire readers? Will staffers end up wearing bifocals by this time next month?

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