ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The New York Daily News on the economic benefits of hydrofracking and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's failure so far to approve it.
Although he is famously averse to leaving New York State, Gov. Cuomo would be well advised to make a day trip 60 miles across the border to a booming city in Pennsylvania.
Williamsport, a town of 30,000 people, is renowned as the site of the Little League World Series. More instructive to Cuomo as he dithers over approving fracking for natural gas in New York is how stunningly the industry has improved the area's fortunes.
Once plagued by a shrinking population and economy — like much of upstate New York — Williamsport now boasts the third-fastest-growing metropolitan economy in the country.
Young people are flocking there to take good-paying jobs. Hotels, real estate agencies and car dealerships are doing land-office business.
Williamsport had the good fortune — also like upstate New York — to be situated above the gas-rich underground rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which can now be profitably tapped thanks to the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The process involves drilling deep into the earth, then pumping in millions of gallons of chemically treated water at high pressure to fracture the surrounding rock and release pockets of fuel. Across the country, the technology has unleashed massive reserves of gas.
In places like Williamsport, fracking has proven to be an economic powerhouse. But not in New York — a state with an 8.4% unemployment rate and well below-par job creation — because Cuomo cannot bring himself to give the regulatory green light for drilling on his turf.
When Cuomo took office, the state Department of Environmental Conservation had studied fracking for 2½ years. An additional two years and three months have passed, and he keeps dragging out environmental and health reviews.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and not-in-my-back-yard activists have turned popular opinion with scare stories, and towns on New York's side of the border flounder.
Take Binghamton, which saw its economy shrink by 1 percent in 2011 and suffers an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent
Or the Utica-Rome area, which also shrank and also has 10.2 percent unemployment.
Or Syracuse, where the economy was down 1.2 percent, in 2011.
Or Ithaca, down 1.6 percent.
Across upstate, 35 of New York's 62 counties lost population from 2010 to 2012 while the state added jobs at a 40 percent slower pace than the nation.
These are symptoms of a long-term slide that Cuomo promised to turn around with business-friendly reforms. Yet he continues to deny the go-ahead for fracking, the one sure game-changer.
Drilling would create tens of thousands of jobs and pour billions into the economy.
New York would enjoy a gusher of revenue, enabling Cuomo to deliver legitimate tax relief without the flim-flam of raising one group's taxes to give other groups a break.
The governor might even be able to shed New York's terrible distinction of being the highest-taxed state.
New York's draft regulations include belt-and-suspender environmental protections. Cuomo promised to act based on science, not politics. Given the crying needs upstate, his motivations and actions are inexplicable.
The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on the settlement that will help pay for pollution cleanup around St. Regis Mohawks reservation.
When it comes to sustainability, the rest of us could learn a lot from Native Americans. While we treat the earth's resources — land, water, wildlife, fish — as if there's no tomorrow, they use the resources to sustain themselves while making sure they're still available in the future.
At least they did, before some of our industrial activities made it impossible. That's what happened with the St. Regis Mohawks, whose tribal lands along the St. Lawrence River were polluted many moons ago by chemical pollution from two factories.
The owners of those factories, Alcoa and General Motors (which came to the area in the 1950s, when a series of new locks and dams on the river brought cheap hydropower), will pay nearly $20 million for environmental restoration and health and cultural programs for the tribe as part of a settlement finalized last week.
This agreement, which also involved New York state and the federal government, might never have been reached if not for former state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone. In 1987, Stone visited the area at the request of the tribe and discovered extremely high levels of PCBs, insecticides and other toxins in area fish and wildlife (enough, he said, to have them declared a hazardous waste site). And also in human beings: The bodies of young Akwesasne Mohawks, including nursing mothers, were found to contain twice the national average for PCBs. Stone clearly linked the pollutants to the factories just upstream from the St. Regis-Akwesasne reservation.
This wasn't only a health, environmental and economic disaster for the Mohawks, but a cultural one. Fishing, hunting and farming near the river were a way of life for them, their connection to the natural and spiritual world. And it was a kind of paradise, with thick forests that contained deer and elk, clean water that abounded with sturgeon, bass, trout and other fish, and fertile soil that made it easy to grow crops.
Contamination from the factories turned that paradise into a toxic hell, as the fish and wildlife became unsafe to eat and the soil unsafe to farm. The Mohawks' traditional economy was replaced by gambling and smuggling, and the rates of unemployment, alcoholism, diabetes and government assistance soared.
The $20 million settlement — which will include $7.3 million for restoring grasslands, wetlands and fisheries and $8.4 million for tribal outdoor education, horticulture, medicine, nutrition, language programs, etc. — can never make up for all that. But, combined with $600 million in expected improvements to the Alcoa plant and a cleanup of the river agreed to by Alcoa that will cost hundreds of millions more, it will at least begin the healing process for the river and the tribe.
The Kingston Daily Freeman on the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to allow video recording of its hearings.
For many citizens of the United States, this week's Supreme Court arguments over the constitutionality of a ban on same-sex marriage were a matter of some interest.
Why wouldn't they be?
A central issue of how we live was put to nine people who may decide the matter for all of us.
For more than 300 million people, it could come down to one vote on the closely fractured high court.
Yet, once again, the public was frozen out, save the 120 or so commoners who managed to score a ticket to either of the two days of arguments.
(Scoring a ticket meant either standing in line through several days and nights of a miserable early spring in Washington or paying a significant amount of money to someone to do it for you.)
Oh, sure, the court deigned to release audio tapes of the session a couple of hours after arguments. (Why the audio has to be delayed is a puzzlement. It comes off as just one more opportunity for the justices to kick sand in the face of citizens, one more opportunity to show who is boss.)
But no video recordings are made of any Supreme Court arguments, nor is live blogging or tweeting allowed from the courtroom.
The court has given no good reason for banning modern means of conveying audio, images and instant text representations of the workings of the court technology because there is none.
Much of the technology for modern communication can be as unobtrusive as it is commonplace. Commonplace, that is, everywhere except at the high court.
As we noted a year ago when the court heard arguments over the constitutionality of Obamacare, the court stubbornly clings to its policy of opacity in an age of increasing transparency.
The justices hold out against modern transparency for the same reason that autocracies everywhere do — because they can.
But Congress has broad rule-making powers over the judiciary — including the Supreme Court — and could end the court's stubborn arrogance by simply passing a law that opens proceedings to live coverage, from video and audio to tweeting and live blogging.
Congress should do so. The court's public workings should be opened to the public as much as is practicable.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on the potential doubling of student loan interest rates if Washington fails to act.
The problem with kicking the can down the road is, sooner or later, you once again come upon the can. Thus, Congress finds itself facing anew a debate it held just one year ago: How to keep interest rates on federal loans for college educations from doubling.
It's a familiar scenario: From the debt ceiling, to the fiscal cliff, to the Farm Bill, Washington's leaders repeatedly fail to agree on anything more than short-term, stop-gap fixes. Such crisis-to-crisis legislating is as frustrating as it is fruitless.
Frustrated today are college students and their families, who could see the current 3.4 percent interest rate climb to 6.8 percent come July 1. Congress and President Obama should act quickly to prevent such a hit.
Outstanding college debt already stands at an estimated $1 trillion — more even than credit card debt. Saddling low- and middle-income students with higher borrowing costs will only add to this bubble, making it more difficult for graduates entering a challenging job market to make payments. Those who do find jobs will have less to save for cars, homes and family.
Still, neither party's spending proposal in Congress has specifically budgeted for the estimated $6 billion it would cost to maintain the lower interest rate. A Democratic bill would cap the 3.4 percent rate, but Republicans would keep the savings to reduce spending. It is up to President Obama, in his executive budget due April 10, to lead.
Families, too, must make their voices heard. While students are rightly urged to weigh carefully how much and whether to borrow for college, higher interest rates further increase the costs in that cost-benefit analysis.
Colleges and universities are consistent enough at regularly boosting the price tag of a higher education without federal loan programs adding to the burden. Doubling federal loan interest rates could throw an unfortunate roadblock across the path to middle class for millions of young Americans. Congress can do better.
The Canandaigua Daily Messenger on encouraging foreign tourists to visit the U.S.
After 9/11, every would-be foreign tourist to the United States was treated as a potential terrorist. If Americans found airport security onerous and intrusive, foreigners found it even more so, and just getting that far required an enormous amount of paperwork. The foreign arrival halls in most major airports were hardly the most welcoming venues for visitors.
Not surprisingly, the number of foreign visitors fell precipitately over the next three years. With a brief pause for the recession, the number of overseas visitors increased steadily since 2004 to 27.9 million in 2011. (If you include our immediate neighbors, Canada and Mexico, the number is 62.7 million.)
But where once the United States was a destination for 17 percent of international travel worldwide, our share dropped to 12 percent in 2005, and has remained stuck at that level ever since, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Particularly prized by the travel business are so-called "long haul" tourists. Apparently, the farther they come, the more they spend. U.S. Travel says long-haul travelers globally are up 40 percent in the last 10 years; for the U.S., that figure is 1 percent.
The travel trade group estimates that over the decade, the U.S. lost 460,000 travel-related jobs and $600 billion in tourist spending. And this is almost "found money," since the U.S. has a huge tourist infrastructure already in place.
Other countries have cut into our market share. The Washington Post cites China and Turkey — and we have been less aggressive in courting foreign visitors.
Mercifully for our reputation and our economy, that has begun to change. The Obama administration and the travel industry have launched a joint $150 million "Discover America" campaign of TV commercials, ads and Facebook pages overseas to attract visitors.
There are now 37 so-called "visa waiver" countries where all a potential visitor needs is a machine-readable passport and advance notice to a U.S. embassy or consulate. A process that could take months after 9/11 has been shortened to a few weeks or less.
The fastest-growing sources of foreign tourists are China, up 47 percent from 2010 to 2011, and Brazil, up 36 percent in that time. As a result, the State Department added two consulates in Brazil and one in China and added more staff to handle visas.
More foreign tourism hits home, of course. Tourism is one of New York's most lucrative industries. Foreign travelers are drawn not just to New York City, but to the charm of the Finger Lakes as well, especially as the region's wine industry develops into a true worldwide attraction. Of course, take a trip to Niagara Falls and you'll get a good idea of the variety of folks who are visiting from all parts of the world. And the many great attractions in Rochester, including world-renown museums, is a draw as well.
Increasing foreign tourism in the United States is common-sense economics. The campaign to bring visitors here should not be allowed to lapse, as it did before.
Besides, we need the money.