UPDATE: According to Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson Emily DeSantis, the DEC's operations budget would remain flat, the cuts would be to the part of the budget that pays for capital works projects, things like coastal erosion prevention and flood mitigation, that are contracted out by the department.
The budget cut amounts to a 5.5% reduction in the department's funding. According to the governor's new budget website, that doesn't mean a loss in staffing to the agency.
But it does raise questions about the future of fracking in New York.
During an interview last week with public radio’s Susan Arbetter, Cuomo said money for additional staff at the DEC, before fracking is approved, isn’t necessary.
“If we do it, we’re going to have the money to pay the staff to do it right," said Cuomo.
The proposed cuts come after years of trimming at the DEC. Even without the loss of staff this year, the DEC has 23% fewer employees than it had 6 years ago and will be stretched thin no matter what decision is made on fracking, according to Riverkeeper’s Kate Hudson.
“The agency is still incapable of moving forward with anything that would be so draining as bringing hydrofracking into New York,” said Hudson.
Hudson was watching the budget for signs that fracking will be permitted in New York. There are none. She said the governor could still move money around between departments after the budget passes.
Another possibility is that the DEC would approve the applications it can cover with the staff it has and then use the money that comes in from the industry to hire more inspectors.
Or fracking might not be permitted in New York State at all. That decision is expected in February, when the final environmental impact statement is due to be completed.