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Tuesday January 23, 2018

Brian Kolb says he's no "bomb-thrower."

The Canandaigua Republican, Rochester native and the minority leader in the state Assembly since 2009, is also the first GOP candidate to toss his hat in the ring, announcing Dec. 12 that he's hoping to secure his party's nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

More: Upstate, schmupstate: When did we last have a governor from our neck of the woods?

He's staking his run on a platform of asking New Yorkers if they truly believe state government is working in their best interests, and trying to find ways to respectfully work together with leaders from the other side to improve the way the government works.

"People have to get engaged if they want a better state government," he said. "They've got to get involved. If they don't think state government is working for them — and that's what I think the decision is going forward into 2018 — then, are there enough reasons to fire Andrew Cuomo and hire Brian Kolb, or whoever (the GOP candidate) might be?"

 

Kolb currently represents the 131st District, which encompasses all of Ontario County and a portion of Seneca County. He has a long background in the private sector: he is former president of Refracton Technologies and a co-founder of the North American Filter Corporation, both in Newark, Wayne County. He has also been an adjunct professor at Roberts Wesleyan College

Gathering enough support in the more liberal areas of the state could be a heavy lift for the staunchly conservative Kolb — a vocal critic of the SAFE Act who voted against same-sex marriage legislation in 2011. Although there hasn't been a governor from upstate in nearly a century, Kolb said his across-the-aisle style is one that will bring more comity to a dysfunctional state government.

 

"My approach has always been, when it comes to public policy, to try to vote for or support initiatives I think are best for everybody regardless of political persuasion," he said. "I'm hoping the folks who have the opportunity to watch my candidacy and get to know me a little bit will see I'm a real person, and someone who focuses on real solutions for real problems. I want the government to be the best it can be for the people it serves."

Other Republicans considering bids for the GOP ticket in 2018 are state Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-DeWitt, Manhattan businessman Harry Wilson and Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. Libertarian Larry Sharpe announced he was a candidate for governor in July. 

 

Kolb sat with the Democrat and Chronicle to discuss his run for the state's top office. What follows are portions of that conversation, lightly edited for space and clarity.

There hasn't been an upstate governor since 1921. How does a conservative upstate Republican appeal to Manhattanites or other Democratic strongholds downstate?

Certainly I think I have the skill set and experience to tackle complex issues because of my private and public sector experience, and that I’m not bringing an agenda other than serving the people of this great state. We've got issues that need to be resolved and there are differences I’ve had with Gov. Cuomo and I’ve spoken out about those and will continue.

 

But let’s talk about New York City. Gov. Cuomo has an ongoing feud with Mayor de Blasio, they’re both Democrats and they’re both trying to undermine each other and undercut the other's positions, and who suffers with that? The people of New York and the surrounding counties.

It’s the wrong message to send to our residents, people look to those who serve in government to help them, to help the people and not themselves and I think that transcends political labels. 

What does bipartisanship look like in a time that seems to have such a great political divide between Republicans and Democrats?

When I went to the state Assembly 17 years ago, it was awful. I introduced myself to the Senate majority leader and he ignored me. Now that's changed. Joe Morelle, the Democratic Senate majority leader from Rochester and I get along great. Do we vote the same on everything? No. Do we go back and forth, whether it's in the chamber or outside the chamber? Of course we do. But I think we respect each other. And I make a concerted effort to reach across the aisle and break down those barriers.

If you're a Republican, does that make you a bad person? No and vice-versa.

You talk about New York's "broken government." What does that mean and what issues do you see being overlooked, especially as they pertain to upstate?

 

My top priorities would be the top priorities of the state and what the people think they should be. And how do you get those? By listening to the legislature, by traveling around the state and also hearing from other groups interested in how state government operates.

As an example, I've asked members of our conference what their priorities are for their districts for the next year and it's a real cross-section. Property taxes, and having a better economic development strategy, especially for upstate. The economy in New York City is not too bad, but you get outside New York City and the farther away you get from New York City, that's where all of a sudden people are saying there's not enough economic opportunities here. It's why we're losing population, why people are having a difficult time selling their homes and at the same time paying their property taxes.

Earlier this week Gov. Cuomo snapped at a reporter who asked a question about what he would do to curb sexual harassment in state government, calling her query "a disservice to women" because it too narrowly focused on state government. He later apologized. How would you work to address issues of sexual harassment in state government?

In the state Aassembly, compared to the way things were done before, it has improved dramatically. Any claims are sent immediately to an outside attorney so there is no internal political control over an investigation.

I don't think the same process exists in (the) Senate or state agencies. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef from downstate, Westchester County said she was looking to introduce a bill that would put in a comprehensive, unilateral "same policy for everyone" approach. I haven't seen the specifics of the bill yet, but I like that concept where everyone knows what the rules are.

You want to make sure the very serious claims are addressed immediately, fairly and confidentially. Unfortunately in politics — and I just read an example of this today involving Sen. Schumer — (there) are false claims, people making up stuff or saying somebody said something wrong to me 20 years ago and it’s about inflicting political damage.

That’s the thing that you need to be protective of, that it’s not a kangaroo trial, and it’s not a rush to judgement and that you’re innocent until proven guilty versus guilty until you're proven innocent.

That’s the hardest rub with politics and elected officials, especially with the media. Just getting your name out there must mean you've done something bad.

And we've got to change that. And we’ve got to make sure serious issues are addressed comprehensively

As temperatures dropped well below freezing in the Northeast U.S. around Christmas, Bloomberg reported that in New England, natural gas spot prices rose more than threefold to the highest in over three years and "turned the region into the world’s priciest market," with gas for next-day delivery on Enbridge’s Algonquin system settling at $35.35 per million British thermal units.

A few days later, the spot prices in New England had fallen back to $19.75, as reported by MassLive.

When one considers that the NYMEX price for natural gas on that day was sitting at a few cents above $3/mmbtu, that's some pretty pricey gas that New Englanders were paying for. Back in the "old days,"  i.e., before the advent of the production of natural gas from shale formations, a winter event like this, combined with a storage level that is well within the 5-year range, would have sent that NYMEX price up dramatically, where it would have lingered until things warmed up. But in today's world, that price represented a rise of barely 10%. 

So what, you might ask, is going on in New England?  As MassLive reported, the biggest reason for what will be a short-term blowout in natural gas prices for power providers is a lack of pipeline capacity.

"Chicago does not have the same pipeline constraints as New England and parts of New York," said Stephen J. Leahy, vice president of policy and analysis for the Northeast Gas Association, an industry trade group.

 

MassLive cited "popular resistance" to new fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts, but for this unhappy circumstance, New Englanders can largely thank their neighbors in New York State, and more specifically, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New York generates more than 40% of its electricity using natural gas, and more than half of the state's residents heat their home with the fuel, which in the rest of the country is quite abundant and cheap.

The trouble for New Yorkers - and for everyone in New England by extension - is that, as I reported back in April, Gov. Cuomo has spent his entire term in office demonizing natural gas.  Not only did his administration take the extraordinary, completely unwarranted action of outlawing hydraulic fracturing operations in the state, the Governor himself has made a point of personally working to obstruct the building of much-needed new pipeline capacity to bring natural gas from the Marcellus Shale into the state from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, whose residents and state governments are profiting immensely from oil and gas operations.

As if it weren't bad enough that Cuomo's actions are denying thousands of New York residents the right to exercise their property rights and causing the state's residents to pay higher prices for home heating and electricity, Cuomo's obstruction costs New Englanders as well.

Why? Geography.  It's impossible for any company to construct a pipeline to move natural gas from the Marcellus region to New England without going through New York , which forms a land barrier between the two regions.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report early in 2017 quantifying the cost of Cuomo to New York and the New England region. It said residents of the Northeast pay 44% more than the national average for electricity and 29% more for natural gas, while regional manufacturers pay 62% more for their electricity supply than the national average.

The report claimed that without the building of new pipelines, by 2020 New York would lose out on 17,400 jobs, $971 billion in labor income, and $1.6 billion in economic benefit.  For the region: 78,000 lost jobs, $4.4 billion in lost labor income, and $7.6 billion in lost gross domestic product.

So, while this current price spike is temporary in nature and will ease off as the weather warms up, the sad reality is that the political actions by the governor of a single state are costing residents of an entire region of the United States dearly.  If you live in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine, you might want to think about writing Gov. Cuomo a "thank you" note when you open up your next utility bill and see what he's costing you.

President Donald Trump’s administration prioritizes U.S. “energy dominance” through promoting exports, innovation and cutting regulations, according to the federal government’s National Security Strategy.

The White House’s security strategy is a rejection of former President Barack Obama’s administration, that prioritized fighting man-made global warming. Trump’s strategy no longer lists global warming as a nation security concern.

The Trump administration plans on “[u]nleashing these abundant energy resources— coal, natural gas, petroleum, renewables, and nuclear” to boost the economy and aid U.S. allies, according to an “America First National Security Strategy” plan.

“Energy dominance—America’s central position in the global energy system as a leading producer, consumer, and innovator—ensures that markets are free and U.S. infrastructure is resilient and secure,” reads the document.

 
 

“Our Nation must take advantage of our wealth in domestic resources and energy efficiency to promote competitiveness across our industries,” reads the document, that the White House released on Monday morning. The environment is best served through “innovation, technology breakthroughs, and energy efficiency gains, not from onerous regulation,” the document says.

Trump has re-positioning the U.S. from “climate leader” to a promoter of energy in the past year, in particular for fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Trump announced in June the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, and his administration promoted “more efficient and cleaner fossil fuels” at the subsequent G20 meeting and at other events.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has already made several international trips to promote U.S. energy, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt flew to Morocco in December to discuss natural gas exports.

Climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system. U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests,” the security document reads. “The United States will remain a global leader in reducing traditional pollution, as well as greenhouse gases, while expanding its economy.”

“As a growing supplier of energy resources, technologies, and services around the world, the United States will help its allies and partners become more resilient against those that use energy to coerce,” the document adds. “America’s role as an energy exporter will also require an assessment of our vulnerabilities and a resilient American infrastructure.”

On the homefront, Trump already took steps to unravel Obama-era global warming and energy regulations.

Here are five main points listed in Trump’s “America First” energy strategy:

Reduce Barriers: The United States will promote clean and safe development of our energy resources, while limiting regulatory burdens that encumber energy production and constrain economic growth. We will streamline the Federal regulatory approval processes for energy infrastructure, from pipeline and export terminals to container shipments and gathering lines, while also ensuring responsible environmental stewardship.

Promote Exports: The United States will promote exports of its energy resources, technologies, and services, that help our allies and partners diversify energy sources and bring economic gains back home. The U.S. will expand export capacity through the continued support of private sector development of coastal terminals, allowing increased market access and a greater competitive edge for U.S. industries.

Ensure Energy Security: The United States will work with allies and partners to protect global energy infrastructure from cyber and physical threats. The United States will support the diversification of energy sources, supplies, and routes at home and abroad. The country will modernize strategic petroleum stocks and encourage other countries to develop their own — consistent with their national energy security needs.

Attain Universal Energy Access: The United States will seek to ensure universal access to affordable, reliable energy, including highly efficient fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewables, to help reduce poverty, foster economic growth, and promote prosperity.

Further America’s Technological Edge: The U.S. will improve America’s technological edge in energy, including nuclear technology, next-generation nuclear reactors, better batteries, advanced computing, carbon-capture technologies, and opportunities at the energy-water nexus. The United States will continue to lead in innovative and efficient energy technologies, recognizing the economic and environmental benefits to end users.

The Trump administration will reverse course from previous Obama administration policy, eliminating climate change from a list of national security threats. The National Security Strategy to be released on Monday will emphasize the importance of balancing energy security with economic development and environmental protection, according to a source who has seen the document and shared excerpts of a late draft.

“Climate policies will continue to shape the global energy system,” a draft of the National Security Strategy slated to be released on Monday said. “U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth, energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests. Given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty.”

 

This matches President Trump’s vision, sometimes shared using his trademark hyperbole, that the United States needs to emphasize national security and economic growth over climate change.

During his successful campaign, Trump mocked Obama’s placement of climate change in the context of national security. Here’s a sample of his approach from a campaign speech in Hilton Head, South Carolina, in late 2015:

So Obama’s always talking about the global warming, that global warming is our biggest and most dangerous problem, OK? No, no, think of it. I mean, even if you’re a believer in global warming, ISIS is a big problem, Russia’s a problem, China’s a problem. We’ve got a lot of problems. By the way, the maniac in North Korea is a problem. He actually has nuclear weapons, right? That’s a problem.

We’ve got a lot of problems. We’ve got a lot of problems. That’s right, we don’t win anymore. He said we want to win. We don’t win anymore. We’re going to win a lot — if I get elected, we’re going to win a lot.

(Applause)

We’re going to win so much — we’re going to win a lot. We’re going to win a lot. We’re going to win so much you’re all going to get sick and tired of winning. You’re going to say oh no, not again. I’m only kidding. You never get tired of winning, right? Never.

(Applause)

But think of it. So Obama’s talking about all of this with the global warming and the — a lot of it’s a hoax, it’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, OK? It’s a hoax, a lot of it. And look, I want clean air and I want clean water. That’s my global — I want clean, clean crystal water and I want clean air. And we can do that, but we don’t have to destroy our businesses, we don’t have to destroy our —

And by the way, China isn’t abiding by anything. They’re buying all of our coal; we can’t use coal anymore essentially. They’re buying our coal and they’re using it. Now when you talk about the planet, it’s so big out there — we’re here, they’re there, it’s like they’re our next door neighbor, right, in terms of the universe.

The draft of the National Security Strategy makes this approach policy, emphasizing national security and economic growth over climate change.

President Obama made climate change, and the burdensome regulations that accompany its focus, a primary focus of his administration, including in his National Security Strategy released in 2015. “[W]e are working toward an ambitious new global climate change agreement to shape standards for prevention, preparedness, and response over the next decade,” that report said.

“In some ways, [climate change] is akin to the problem of terrorism and ISIL,” Obama said at climate talks in Paris in 2015. During a weekly address, Obama said “Today, there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change.”

In September 2016, President Obama released a memorandum requiring federal agencies to consider the effects of climate change in the development of national security-related doctrine, policies, and plans. All of this alarmed critics concerned with more pressing security risks.

By contrast, President Trump’s National Security Strategy will focus on conventional and immediate national security risks. The draft says, in part:

North Korea seeks the capability to kill millions of Americans with nuclear weapons. Iran supports terrorist groups and openly calls for our destruction. Jihadist terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda are determined to attack the United States and radicalize Americans with their hateful ideology. States and non-state actors undermine social order with drug and human trafficking networks, which drive violent crimes and cause thousands of American deaths each year…. Strengthening control over our borders and immigration system is central to national security, economic prosperity, and the rule of law. Terrorists, drug traffickers, and criminal cartels exploit porous borders and threaten U.S. security and public safety. These actors adapt quickly to outpace our defenses.

As for climate change, the draft report says “The United States will remain a global leader in reducing traditional pollution, as well as greenhouse gases, while growing its economy. This achievement, which can serve as model to other countries, flows from innovation, technology breakthroughs, and energy efficiency gains –not from onerous regulation.”

A once highly-touted plan to frack a gas well in Tioga County using propane rather than water remains a non-starter after two and a half years, although supporters have not given up.

A group of landowners, Tioga Energy Partners, have been pursuing a permit since July 2015 to develop shale gas wells on their properties in the Town of Barton. The state’s ban on high volume hydraulic fracking does not apply to propane fracks, according to the group.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has not disagreed with that premise, although the agency’s demand for more information has effectively stalled the project.

Just south of the intersection of Halsey Valley and South Hill roads, the Snyder well would use a liquid propane system instead of a water-based chemical solution to generate hydraulic pressure to fracture the shale and release gas. Both systems use sand as a “proppant” to hold open minute fissures in the bedrock.

Due to explosion risks, propane fracks —  also known as “gas fracks” — typically use robotics to keep workers out of the “hot zone” during operations. The technology is still developing and has not been widely used, especially in places where water is available.

Linda Collart, DEC’s regional mineral resources supervisor, stated the agency needs more details to determine “if this relatively unique fracturing technology that has not heretofore been subject to a full environmental analysis has the potential to cause significant adverse environmental impacts.”

In a Notice of Incomplete Application on April 15, 2016, Collart requested information on safety and emergency protocols, truck traffic, storage, equipment specifications, waste controls, emissions and many other aspects of the project.

The group has yet to satisfy the requirements, said Kevin Frisbie, president of the Tioga County Farm Bureau and one of the landowners. Even if the permit is completed to the state’s satisfaction, the project may require an independent environmental review.

“It’s time consuming and very technical,” Frisbie said about the permit process. “In a perfect world, there’s no reason it couldn’t happen. But it’s so political and there are so many players involved, there’s no telling.”

Frisbie’s idea of a perfect world is vastly different than those who oppose shale gas development due to environmental and public health concerns.

In their view, using propane is even more reckless than using water to frack wells because it adds the risk of fire and explosion to other health and environmental issues at the root of New York’s fracking ban. These range from risks to drinking water supplies to ongoing emissions from gas production.

Fracking study: Answers soon on sick foals of Tioga Downs owner

“We are against fossil fuel development for many reasons,” said Walter Hang, an activist from Ithaca who participated in the landmark fight for New York’s fracking ban. Hang agrees that the propane frack would likely fall outside the ban, which was enacted three years ago on December 17.

“The governor’s so-called fracking ban turns out to be incredibly limited,” Hang said. “It needs a clearer definition of fracking.”

When the Barton project was announced in the summer of 2016, drilling proponents were keen on proving the viability of the Utica and Marcellus shales in New York. Since then, a prolonged gas glut in Pennsylvania has suppressed prices and made the viability of any new drilling questionable.

Fracking with propane proposed for Tioga County, NY

Economics aside, however, the Tioga proposal could present a legal and regulatory test for alternative methods to tap the Marcellus and Utica shales that become relevant in the future.

Adam Schultz, attorney for the Tioga landowners, said the application review has taken “a long time, but [is]not necessarily out of the ordinary.”

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