New York’s DEC installing a revolving door?

On the heels of Public Accountability Initiative’s extensive report on the revolving door between fracking regulators and the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania, Gannett’s Jon Campbell reports that Steven Russo, deputy secretary and general counsel of New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, is leaving the agency to lead the environmental practice at the law firm Greenberg Traurig.

As the DEC’s chief legal counsel, Russo played an important role in the state’s fracking deliberations. In June of 2012, the agency’s independence was questioned when the Environmental Working Group obtained a series of e-mails through a document request that were exchanged between the environmental agency and gas industry lobbyist Thomas West. These e-mails indicated that Russo had sent West and Yvonne Hennessey, another lobbyist at that time at West’s firm, a draft of the state’s revised oil and gas regulations six weeks before these regulations were released to the public.

Before joining the DEC, Russo was a partner at Sive, Paget & Riesel, a firm that bills itself as “uniquely qualified to defend environmental enforcement matters, particularly enforcement actions that threaten the health or viability of a company.” At Sive, Paget & Risel, Russo was an expert in environmental review, guiding clients through New York’s State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process and through federal National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review.

Greenberg Traurig, the firm that Russo is joining, has an energy and natural resources practice with an emphasis on the Marcellus Shale:

The team has wide-ranging upstream and midstream experience in conventional and unconventional plays including the Barnett Shale, as well as considerable environmental and real property experience in the “fairway” of current Marcellus drilling in Pennsylvania’s western and northern tiers, and in New York and West Virginia.

Greenberg Traurig represents gas operators and landowners, including “the owner of the mineral rights in about one-third of the Allegheny National Forest in National Environmental Policy Act and property rights litigation with the Forest Service and environmental groups over access to drill new gas wells.” The firm also has a lobbying practice, and has lobbied for GenOn Energy, ConocoPhillips, and its spin-off downstream and LNG company, Phillips 66 since 2009.

It seems that the gas industry revolving door dynamics observed in Pennsylvania are indeed being replicated north of the border in New York. Former governor George Pataki has been an advisory board member of the oil and gas producer Mesa Energy Holdings and he and former DEC Secretary John Cahill are of counsel to a firm, Chadbourne & Parke, that represents the oil and gas industry.

Which incentives, the public interest or the ability to leverage a regulatory post into a lucrative job representing the fossil fuel industry, are guiding New York’s policymakers when it comes to fracking?