Joseph Martens was confirmed as commissioner of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on Tuesday.

Martens, a former president of the Open Space Institute, has been acting commissioner of the DEC since his appointment on Jan. 4 by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo. He was unanimously confirmed by the Republican-controlled state Senate.

“At a time when many of our state’s most vital natural resources are threatened by pollution and contamination, it is important that we have a strong and competent leader with an extensive resume of environmental protection to head this agency,” State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Whitestone) said Tuesday. “Mr. Martens’ history of environmental stewardship in this regard gives me hope that the DEC will be alert and actively involved in protecting our beautiful state in the battles ahead.”

Many of those battles are expected to be over the future of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) in the state. The DEC is working to meet a July 1 deadline for preparing a supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) on hydrofracking (see Shale Daily, Dec. 14, 2010). The SGEIS was ordered by former Gov. David Paterson in July 2008, effectively placing a moratorium on drilling horizontal wells in the New York portion of the Marcellus Shale play (see Daily GPI, July 28, 2008). Once the SGEIS is issued, draft rules would be subject to a 30-day public comment period before final rules would be established.

Meanwhile the DEC is also working on updated draft regulations on hydrofracking. Martens said on Feb. 8 that the DEC could have the regulations completed in June (see Shale Daily, Feb. 10).

Martens apparently did not mention hydrofracking immediately after his confirmation was announced by Cuomo Tuesday. “The challenges we face will be many but the decisions that are made will be based on a simple principle — let’s leave a cleaner environment for our children than the one we inherited,” he said.

Martens officially replaces Alexander “Pete” Grannis as DEC commissioner. Grannis was fired by Paterson last October for allegedly leaking internal memos to the media that were critical of staff cuts — cuts that Grannis argued would impede DEC’s effectiveness in overseeing gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale (see Shale Daily, Nov. 23, 2010; Oct. 27, 2010). Grannis has since joined Environmental Advocates of New York as special counsel (see Shale Daily, Dec. 15, 2010), and was appointed first deputy comptroller for New York state on Dec. 31. He took office on Jan. 20.