New York Water Rangers, a coalition of 10 environmental groups, is calling on state Senator Tom Libous to recuse himself from fracking deliberations after his ties to a real estate company with a natural-gas lease were disclosed.
The organization, which includes Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Riverkeeper, said in a statement yesterday that Libous should stop blocking a vote on extending a ban on hydraulic fracturing for two years. Libous’s business partner and campaign donor, Luciano Piccirilli, runs a firm started by Libous’s wife that owns 230 acres near Oneonta. A drilling company has leased the property’s gas rights, Bloomberg News reported yesterday.
The recusal push targeting the 60-year-old Binghamton Republican comes amid calls to clean up Albany after two senators and an assemblyman, all Democrats from the New York City area, have been accused in corruption cases by federal authorities since April. They’ve all pleaded not guilty.
“Senator Tom Libous, the pro-fracking industry floor leader of a chamber already riddled with chaos and dysfunction, has pledged to prevent his colleagues from ever having the opportunity to cast their vote,” the Water Rangers said in the statement. “The senator should recuse himself and stop blocking legislative consideration of the moratorium bill.”
Emmanuel Priest, a Libous spokesman, didn’t respond to an e-mail and telephone call requesting comment on the statment.
Libous, who was elected to the Senate in 1988, and Piccirilli have deep ties. They co-own two Florida properties, and Piccirilli has donated at least $28,000 to the senator’s campaigns over the past 10 years. He was also general contractor for Libous’s $415,000 lakeside house, according to property and campaign records, and a building permit. Raymond Rolston, a subcontractor who oversaw paving at the home, said in an interview this week that the FBI asked him about his work there.
Bonnie Mariano, a Federal Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman in Albany, declined to comment on the questioning.
Libous said in a radio interview yesterday on Binghamton’s WNBF-AM that he isn’t aware of any FBI investigation and said he supports gas drilling to create jobs in the region.
“I stand to gain nothing personal from fracking, and I mean that,” Libous said. “I’m doing what I think is right.”
Fracking, a relatively new drilling method, is one of the most contentious issues before the state legislature. The battle pits landowners seeking the type of economic gains seen in Pennsylvania, where thousands of wells have been drilled since 2007, against environmental groups and residents who say it will damage drinking water, render farmland unusable and ruin the quality of life.
Since 2008, New York has had a moratorium on the drilling method as it studies its environmental effects and develops regulations. Fracking frees gas and oil trapped in shale by injecting water, sand and chemicals into the rock.
In March, the Democratic-led Assembly passed a bill that would extend the ban for two years. In the Senate, Libous, who as head of the Republican campaign committee oversaw the raising of $10.4 million for his party’s candidates in the 2012 election cycle, said he would stop a similar measure from coming to a vote.
Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan, a Democrat, and Save the Southern Tier, an anti-fracking group, sent a letter to the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference today pressing the group to move forward with a vote on the moratorium. The IDC is a group of four breakaway Democrats that shares power with Republicans. The conference introduced the two-year moratorium bill sponsored by Senator David Carlucci in March.
“We are gravely concerned about fracking and misrepresentations we have received on the issue from our own Senator Tom Libous,” the letter said. “As leaders in the New York state Senate, we respectfully implore you to bring the two-year moratorium-on-fracking bill to the Senate floor for a vote and pass it.”
Eric Soufer, a spokesman for the IDC, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Jason Elan, a spokesman for Carlucci, of Rockland County, declined to comment on the letter.
In 2010, the company formed by Frances Libous, Da Vinci II LLC, bought 230 acres for $329,000 from Peter Hudiburg in Plymouth, including the rights to gas, oil and minerals underground, according to the deed and Hudiburg. The gas lease, currently held by Erie, Pennsylvania-based EmKey Resources LLC, allows the company the right to drill there, property records show. Under state law, Da Vinci II must receive at least 12.5 percent of the revenue from gas extracted.
Libous late yesterday released a document dated Jan. 1, 2008, showing that he and his wife had divested their one-third interest in Da Vinci II. He had declined to release the document when asked by Bloomberg News over the past few weeks, and again in the WNBF radio interview yesterday morning.
Da Vinci II stands to benefit if Governor Andrew Cuomo, a 55-year-old Democrat, allows fracking in New York.
Land prices just across the border in Pennsylvania have climbed by as much as 100 percent per acre because of fracking, said Thad DeMulder, a Binghamton-based vice president with RealtyUSA who also runs an office in Pennsylvania.
“We take that as an indication of what would happen in the Southern Tier,” DeMulder said in a telephone interview, referring to the area of the state that borders Pennsylvania. “We expect to see a similar price increase.”
Katherine Nadeau, a program director for Environmental Advocates of New York, which is part of the Rangers coalition, said the possibility that Libous’s business partner could profit with fracking is evidence of the type of “backroom deals” that define Albany.
“The fact that it takes investigative reporting to dig up these connections is disgusting,” Nadeau said in an interview in Albany. “New Yorkers deserve better.”
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