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Energy and Our World

Energy Remains an Important Electoral Issue Even in “Safe” States Like New York

This article originally ran on Forbes.com on October 14, 2022. All rights reserved.

Daniel B. Markind is a Forbes.com energy column contributor. The views expressed in this article are not to be associated with the views of Flaster Greenberg PC.

Now less than one month before Election Day, the New York Governor's race is far closer than most had anticipated.  Incumbent Democrat Kathy Hochul, who succeeded Andrew Cuomo following his resignation, is being pressed by Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin of Long Island to an extent few predicted.  The polls are all over the map, with some having Hochul up double digits while others, such as a recent Trafalger Group poll, showing Zeldin closing to being within two points.

One of the key issues in New York is energy, which sits on large natural gas deposits from the Marcellus Shale formation yet not only has banned fracking to extract the gas from the ground, but has used an obscure section in the federal Clean Water Act to prevent any pipeline construction that could take gas extracted in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where fracking is allowed, to the New York City area (and beyond).  As a result, New York City and its environs are unusually exposed should the upcoming winter be colder than normal.  With Russian gas supplies no longer available, New Yorkers may lament the precarious energy limb that they are on as winter approaches.

Opposing that is the general far left tilt to New York State politics.  The Empire State hasn’t elected a Republican Governor since George Pataki in 2002, and many considered Pataki to be almost a Democrat when he was in office.  New York City has banned the use of natural gas in new building construction. Following California and Washington, Governor Hochul announced the phase out of internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035. 

Congressman Zeldin has stated that he will try to reverse the New York State ban on fracking should he be elected.  Governor Hochul responded in August when asked about fracking:  "No way are we going to go backwards to our commitment to protect the environment. And this is just another example of how Lee Zeldin is the one out of touch with New York values."

What is easy to feel in the heat of August often dissolves in the chill of early November, and Governor Hochul now sees her once large electoral lead slipping away.  The recent OPEC decision to cut oil production, combined with Vladimir Putin's intensified strikes on Ukraine following the destruction of the Kerch Bridge to Crimea, not to mention the western boycott of Russian oil and gas exports that has been in place since Russia attacked Ukraine, have helped cause a new gasoline price spike, and the winter hasn't even begun.  Should prices continue to rise throughout October, Hochul may face an electorate in a very different mood than the one she spoke to in August.

As for Zeldin, he will have to do something that the oil and gas industry has been unable to do well despite a sound underlying message - make the environmental case for natural gas.  New York voters remain decidedly liberal, and they are unlikely to be receptive to a message of "Drill baby drill."  Overcoming the conventional environmentalist mantra, Zeldin will have to show how the shale revolution has actually decreased American CO2 emissions and made us less vulnerable to the policies of countries like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. It's a powerful message, but one which the oil and gas industry has proved thoroughly inept at presenting to date.

We will see if Zeldin's political people can do a better job than the oil and gas industry has done.  If they can, and if gas prices continue to rise, the Congressman Zeldin may have a solid, if unlikely, shot at becoming Governor Zeldin come November.  No one should be holding their breath.

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