An Upstate New York business advocacy group on Tuesday called for state officials to lift the moratorium on unconventional natural gas drilling in the Southern Tier, part of its broad-based prescription to deliver tax relief and stimulate job growth.

Unshackle Upstate called for enacting its five-point agenda, New Economic Revitalization Agenda (ERA), in the 2014 state legislative session.

"Our Upstate communities have been victimized by a three-headed monster for decades," said Executive Director Brian Sampson. "Our New ERA for Upstate plan will help combat the burdensome taxes, high unemployment rates and population losses that have plagued Upstate for far too long."

One of the five priorities is to develop the Marcellus Shale, which would "generate approximately $78 million in state revenue in 2014-2015." The group said "revenues will grow in future years as natural gas activity increases."

The state has a high-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) moratorium in place that remains under review, with no firm date in sight as to when the moratorium may be permanently enacted or lifted. It has been a political hot potato for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has made few statements about which way he may decide on unconventional drilling.

He has claimed that he is awaiting a regulatory blueprint on unconventional drilling from the Department of Environmental Conservation, which needs to wait on a report by Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to include health impacts from drilling in its regulatory proposals. No one has issued any timeframe as to when the health report will be completed, which apparently is holding up the entire process.

The other priorities by Unshackle Upstate are to reduce income taxes, corporate franchise taxes and sales taxes for Upstate residents. "In total, this plan will cost $860 million," equivalent to .6% of the projected 2014 state budget, the group said.

"If our leaders in Albany are committed to improving the Upstate economy, they should support the New ERA for Upstate plan," said Sampson. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature "have enacted other pro-Upstate economic initiatives like Start-Up NY, the Regional Economic Development Councils and the 2% property tax cap -- all of which we supported..."

The plan received support from the Upstate business community.

"This plan addresses what Unshackle has been calling for since day one, real and impactful tax relief for Upstate," said Greater Binghamton Chamber of Commerce CEO Lou Santoni. "Equally important is the recognition that natural gas development will positively reshape the Southern Tier and Upstate economy. These are things that need to be done if New York is serious about improving Upstate."

The Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) also supported the call for developing the Marcellus Shale.

"Safe, responsible hydraulic fracturing will bring opportunity for countless construction workers and their families across the Southern Tier of New York," said ABC's Joshua Reap, who directs government affairs for the Empire State Chapter. "Study after study has proven modern technology can be used to do the work safely and efficiently in a way that protects drinking water and the well-being of the environment. It is now time for New York State to approve safe natural gas exploration to help create jobs and increase the availability of domestically produced energy."

New ERA "provides a road map for Albany's leaders to continue to build on their much appreciated investments and attention to Upstate New York," said Buffalo Niagara Partnership CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen. By addressing Upstate's troublesome tax burden, overarching regulations, and tapping into its regional assets, the New ERA plan will allow Upstate to prosper."

Unshackle Upstate plans to promote the New ERA proposals over the coming months in a series of public events.

"As we've done for the past seven years, Unshackle Upstate will work hard to advance ideas that will strengthen Upstate New York," said Sampson. "Whether it's over a cup of coffee or over the web, we're looking forward to talking with families, business owners and elected officials about the benefits of the New ERA plan."

After New York officials this summer again delayed a decision on whether to proceed or put an end to developing the state's unconventional gas resources, Sampson and Mike Durant, who directs the New York arm of the National Federation of Independent Business, jointly stated that developing the Southern Tier was the state's best option for economic development.

In 2008, they noted, Gov. David Paterson blocked the Southern Tier's "best option for a real economic recovery. Five years later, another administration, and still nothing has changed.

"New York must end its 'paralysis by analysis; on hydrofracking and implement rigorous standards that protect human health and environment. If we truly want to rebuild Upstate New York -- especially those communities that have suffered the largest population and job losses over the last few decades, nothing will have a greater impact than developing New York's natural gas resources...It's time to approve safe natural gas development. Only then will the Southern Tier's struggling cities, towns and villages be open for business."

Last month the New York Court of Appeals agreed to review two lawsuits that protest bans on unconventional drilling, and specifically fracking, that were imposed by Middlefield and Dryden, Southern Tier municipalities that sit atop the Marcellus Shale (see Shale Daily, Aug. 30).