Actor Mark Ruffalo, who lives in a rural New York town on the Delaware River with his family, is not one of those celebrities who parachutes into a random political cause and starts ignorantly pontificating about solutions. He has been actively involved with efforts to keep potentially disastrous hydrofracking practices out of New York State for three years, and he knows his stuff. He’s even co-founded his own initiative on water quality, Water Defense.
Now Ruffalo has banded together with some other famous friends, including Ethan Hawke and Zoe Saldana, to make a new video, “I Love My New York Water,” that he hopes will encourage people to get involved in the battle to keep New York’s water safe from the effects of hydrofracking. Fracking, in case you don’t know, is a controversial natural gas extraction process that has the potential to cause severe environmental damage (remember the flaming faucets in Gasland?). “It is a new technology, ” Ruffalo told me. “The industry is using us as guinea pigs. The more we learn about it, the uglier it looks.”
On June 6, the New York State Legislature voted to extend a moratorium on the practice. Now the question goes to the New York State Senate and potentially Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And, Ruffalo told me on the phone, the citizens of New York need to let their elected officials know how they feel.
Photo: christopherharte“It’s a good time to remind Gov. Cuomo that New Yorkers are awake and do care about their water,” Ruffalo said.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the governor might need to hear that message at top volume. From Kate Sinding’s NRDC blog:
This new video comes at a critical time here. There is new evidence that Governor Cuomo is dangerously rushing forward to allow new fracking in New York before allowing sufficient time for officials to undertake a full environmental assessment of its risks. And the state legislative session is drawing to a close with important unfinished fracking-related business.
In an apparent effort to appease the gas industry, Governor Cuomo sent a memo to his Department of Environmental Conservation at the end of May, directing them to deliver their environmental review of fracking in the state no later than July 1st. While the governor’s memo also contains some distinctly positive aspects – including a directive that DEC evaluate a recent major blowout of a Chesapeake Energy well next-door in Bradford County, PA, and other fracking-related accidents in Pennsylvania and elsewhere – its evident intention to rush the state’s crucial, potentially groundbreaking review of the environmental and health impacts of proposed new gas development is extremely troubling. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens has been clear that he is taking his charge to fully assess the risks very seriously, and he and his staff deserve all the time and resources necessary to do that job right.
Holding DEC to an arbitrary — and unnecessarily tight — deadline doesn’t do anyone any favors, and enhances the chances that the state will not sufficiently protect its residents from the dangers associated with fracking. (This does not even provide nearly enough time to address the multiple fatal deficiencies in an initial review that was thrown out last year because it was so woefully inadequate.)
Ruffalo told me that fracking proponents are holding up a false model of economic growth to gain support for an energy extraction process with many dangers — both known and unknown.
“A very small percentage of the population stands to make a lot of money,” he said. “They’re selling this by saying that it’s going to bring a huge influx of jobs. But a Cornell study showed that it kills diversification in the workplace and leaves places worse than they were before. Lots of workers come in from out of state. The businesses that profit are chain hotels, gas stations, prostitution, drug dealing, and bars. And that does not make a community. That does not make an economy.”
The rural communities where the fracking would happen are not the only ones at risk. So is the water supply of the entire New York metropolitan area. “Water goes downhill, and pretty much anything it comes into contact with it picks up,” said Ruffalo. “New York City happens to sit at the bottom of the hill. You don’t have a massive filtration system. You should be very afraid, because these people cannot be trusted.”
He knows that the fact that he’s famous might help to get the message out (the fact that he’s also smokin’ hot doesn’t hurt).
“It’s the fortunate and unfortunate thing that my voice travels a little farther,” he said. “I’d rather be with my wife and my family and doing what I love, which is acting. But if I’m a man of conscience, I have to do what I can do.”
Bonus: Our own Broke-Ass Grouch talks hydrofracking with another one of Ruffalo’s buddies, director and writer Ben Younger.