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DEC Commissioner Fired After Criticism of Layoffs Goes Public


ELMIRA-- New York's chief environmental officer was fired, after a memo critical of layoffs became public.

Governor Paterson's office confirmed the firing of State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis, who's led the agency since 2007. The governor's office instructed the DEC to cut another 209 workers by the end of the year.

But after an undated, unsigned memo from the agency warned cuts would slow down natural gas development, endanger the environment, and curtail economic development, Commissioner Grannis was fired.

The ouster surprised a lot of people. Our media partner, the Star-Gazette, put a copy of the memo on its website. In it, the DEC asks Paterson to reconsider layoffs. A lot of people wonder how the agency will protect the environment with a smaller staff.

The memo states:
“Further staff reductions may result in potential serious risks to human health and safety and environmental quality.

“All the meat has been stripped from the bones, and some of the bones have disappeared.

“Cuts to our minerals division will mean fewer staff available to review applications and oversee activities related to natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.”

Environmental watchdog Walter Hang has criticized Grannis and the the DEC's oversight of Marcellus Shale drilling. But Friday, he praised Grannis as an environmental champion, and a serious loss to the agency.

“He had told me he had been in a big fight with the governor to oppose across the board cuts,” said Hang.

Grannis seems to have lost the battle with the lame duck administration. Local candidates hopeful for a seat in the new legislature say the future of Marcellus Shale development hangs in limbo.

Democrat Pam Mackesey wants a moratorium on drilling. Her Republican opponent Tom O'Mara is sticking to what he's said before: Leave drilling to the experts.

“The DEC didn't have to go through any other process. As it stands right now, they could start issuing permits tomorrow. And so, it's a terrifying prospect,” said Mackesey.

O'Mara said, “Just because we're seeing a change at the top, that doesn't mean that that's gonna affect the daily process of professionally reviewing.”

The DEC referred all questions to the governor's office, where a spokesperson declined to give a reason for firing Grannis.