Joseph Martens, who was tapped by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday to lead New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), last year suggested the state wait until a federal study had been completed on hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) impacts to health and the environment before implementing rules for Marcellus Shale drillers.

Martens currently is president of conservation organization Open Space Institute (OSI). As DEC commissioner, Martens would oversee completion of the supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS) for drilling in the state’s portion of the Marcellus Shale. Former Gov. David Paterson in December extended until July 1 a deadline for the DEC to complete the SGEIS (see Shale Daily, Dec. 14, 2010). A state moratorium on hydrofracking is in place through May 15.

Last year Martens spoke at an event at Union College in Schenectady, NY, that marked the 40th anniversary of the DEC. According to a transcript of the speech, which was confirmed by OSI, Martens said hydrofracking in the Marcellus “may be the most difficult and daunting” of all of the environmental challenges that DEC has faced in its history.

The state’s budget, said Martens, “is in bad shape, unemployment is high and it just so happens that we have this huge rock formation under our feet that the gas industry has found a way to exploit and we even have a terrific new gas pipeline that could bring that gas to millions of nearby customers.”

However, he urged the DEC to “go slow” in allowing the shale play to be developed, using the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon tragedy last year to make his point. The deepwater tragedy “clearly demonstrated that the unexpected can and will happen,” said Martens. “It is also clear that the gas industry has not been as candid as it should have been with regards to the potential for problems. That suggests to me that our fate — and the need to separate objective science and environmental assessment from industry rhetoric — is in DEC’s hands, and the stakes could not be higher.”

The potential for problems, he said, would multiply “dramatically with each well that is drilled…I see no reason to rush to judgment on a decision as monumental as hydrofracking in the Marcellus.”

Instead, Martens suggested that state officials wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to complete a two-year study on the impact of hydrofracking on health and the environment (see Daily GPI, March 19, 2010). “What’s the downside of waiting for the results?” Martens asked last year.

Following the announcement, Cuomo said Martens’ “lifelong experience of fighting to protect and preserve our environment will bring the highest level of stewardship to our state’s beautiful natural resources. Joe knows how to strike the critical balance between defending our natural resources from pollution and destruction while at the same time fostering a climate of economic renewal and growth. His experience and record as a competent and productive manager will breathe life into this vital agency.”

Since 1998 Martens has directed OSI’s land acquisition, sustainable development, historic preservation and farmland protection — mostly in the state of New York. He previously served former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo as DEC’s deputy secretary from 1992 to 1994 and was assistant secretary from 1990 to 1992.

Martens also chairs the Adirondack Lake Survey Corp., which continuously monitors Adirondack lakes and streams to determine the extent and magnitude of acidification in the region.

During his tenure at the OSI, the institute completed more than 400 transactions that resulted in the protection of more than 86,000 acres in the state. Martens was credited with obtaining the protection of the 10,000-acre Tahawus property in the Adirondacks, former President Franklin Roosevelt’s Top Cottage and the 2,350-acre Camp Little Notch in the Adirondacks. Martens also spearheaded OSI’s involvement to assist the Nature Conservancy in protecting the 161,000-acre Finch Pryun land in the Adirondacks.

“This move to DEC is the logical culmination of Joe’s entire career,” said OSI CEO Kim Elliman. “Joe is perfectly placed to meet 21st century environmental challenges, including the interplay between public and private conservation, and private- and public-sector interests.”

Environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. called Martens “an outstanding choice to lead such a vital agency at such at an important time. We are at a crossroads for the environmental movement in New York State and I know that Joe will continue to be a leader in the fight to preserve our great state’s landscape, environment, and natural resources.”

Martens studied resource economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and received a master’s of science in resource management from the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Former DEC Commissioner Alexander “Pete” Grannis was fired in October by Paterson after a leaked internal memo criticized staff cuts that would impede DEC’s effectiveness in overseeing gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, among other things (see Shale Daily, Nov. 23, 2010; Oct. 27, 2010). Grannis has since been appointed special counsel to Environmental Advocates of New York (see Shale Daily, Dec. 15, 2010).