Adirondack Daily Enterprise: Broad spectrum calls for Grannis to be reinstated

(October 23, 2010)

October 23, 2010

Sixteen environmental groups, at least three legislators and the union that represents the state Department of Environmental Conservation's employees have blasted DEC Commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis' firing as "reckless" and called for his reinstatement.

The environmental groups also blasted Gov. David Paterson's record on environmental issues in general, with the Adirondack Council calling it "a sad punctuation on the dismal environmental record of the Paterson administration." They called on Paterson's successor to provide DEC with more resources.

Grannis was fired for insubordination after an unsigned memo from DEC to the Division of Budget was leaked to the press. The memo pleaded that the governor's proposed 209 DEC staff cuts, on top of 260 already lost to early retirements, would severely hamper the department in many areas.

Public Employees' Federation President Kenneth Brynien said 11,318 executive-branch jobs have been eliminated since Paterson took office and that Grannis knew how these reductions affected services.

"Yet, when Grannis voiced those concerns to the Paterson administration he found himself out of a job," Brynein said.

"The issues raised in the DEC memo released to the public are not new to the professional staff," said Wayne Bayer, executive board and shop steward of PEF Division 169, which represents the 1,700 professional, scientific and technical staff at DEC. "We have been telling the Legislature and governor for years our staff shortages are resulting in drive-by inspections and triage management. Any additional cuts will prevent DEC from fulfilling its mission, and statutory and regulatory responsibilities."

The memo that was leaked earlier in the week said staff cuts have led to, in the Adirondacks, a significant reduction in backcountry patrols by forest rangers and environmental conservation officers. It also alluded to the potential closure of fish hatcheries and listed numerous other impacts and potential impacts, such as reduced inspection ability and enforcement capacity. It also said the weakened DEC would have trouble assessing whether natural gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale of the Southern Tier would be safe for New York City's drinking water. Grannis has told the Associated Press he did not leak the memo.

Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, blasted Grannis' firing, along with Democratic Assemblymen Robert Sweeney and Kevin Cahill, chairs of the Environmental Conservation and Energy committees, respectively. Sweeney called it "one more in a long series of examples of the Paterson administration's open hostility to the environment" and praised Grannis' performance.

"Commissioner Grannis stood firm against proposals to cut the DEC to nearly the lowest levels in its history, and he paid for it," Sweeney said. "Today we honor his courage to stand up for our water, land and air and to be a staunch advocate for his agency."

Cahill said Grannis was fired for "sounding the alarm and because the truth came out.

"Budget cuts and staff attrition have pushed the agency to the brink," Cahill said. "Instead of rising to the challenge and working to address these serious issues, the governor's reaction was to fire the one person holding it all together. This wrong-headed move will cost New Yorkers dearly."

"We have seen cuts to staff, slashing of the Environmental Protection Fund, and a proposal to end land protection," said Adirondack Council Executive Director Brian Houseal. "The Adirondack Council applauds the efforts of Commissioner Grannis to protect the environment during his tenure and his truthfulness about what additional cuts would do to DEC's critical functions. We wish Pete the best in the future and hope this administration, which is openly hostile to the environment, does not do any further damage in its final days."

The American Lung Association in New York, Audubon New York, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Clean New York, Earthjustice, Environmental Advocates of New York, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Justice Action Group of Western New York, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Public Interest Research Group, Pace Energy & Climate Center, Prevention Is the Cure, and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter are also calling for Grannis' reinstatement.

Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said he regrets Grannis' leaving.

"We have had our differences with the commissioner, but they were not differences on the big stuff," Woodworth said. "He worked to hold staff levels at DEC, and he did the right thing on issues such as clean air. We applaud him for his decisions to extend the comment period on gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale and to exempt the New York City and Syracuse watersheds from a Generic Environmental Impact Statement on gas drilling."