Democrats Mitrano and Danks Burke say money and influence bought now-repealed exemption to environmental rules

PAINTED POST | Two candidates seeking to represent Steuben County spoke Thursday about regulations that allowed waste from fracking to be brought to several landfills in the area despite a state ban on the process itself.

In the background of the press event was the towering Hakes C&D (construction and demolition) Landfill, operated by Casella Waste Systems, which accepts drill cuttings, but not fluid waste from fracking, according to a company official.

The two Democratic office-seekers, Tracy Mitrano and Leslie Danks Burke, noted that the state recently repealed an exemption that allowed fracking waste to come into New York landfills without meeting certain hazardous waste regulations.

The women -- both seeking to unseat entrenched incumbents -- said their focus was on the special interests, money and "corruption" they say allowed the exemption to exist in the first place.

Danks Burke said her opponent in November, state Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, was "the lone vote" against repealing the exemption -- and that O’Mara’s law firm has long represented Casella.

"This law doesn’t fix it all," Danks Burke said. "It doesn’t remove the radioactive waste that could leak out at any time. And it does not end the system in New York that lets hired guns for corporate polluters also serve as elected representatives voting on the laws.

"We’ve been dumped on too long here, in too many ways."

Mitrano said it’s emblematic of a larger issue of money influencing politics.

"Why are we facing these issues?," she said. "Largely because we have had corrupt politicians in office. They have been bought by large corporations to vote in those corporations’ interest and not in the interests of the people of this district."

"I stand here with Leslie Danks Burke in support of her candidacy, and in an effort to get a good politician in our state Senate who is going to represent the genuine interests of the people," Mitrano added.

She noted that five counties in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, now represented by her opponent, incumbent Tom Reed, R-Corning, have landfills that accept the same kind of waste.

"We have a state ban on hydrofracking for a reason, and the reason is health," Mitrano said.

Larry Shilling, a vice president with Casella who oversees the Hakes landfill and others, said their facility never changed its practices despite the state exemption for oil and gas production-related waste, and hasn’t accepted anything that would not have met the prior, now-reinstated, hazardous waste regulations.

Shilling and two other Casella employees arrived on site as the event was setting up. Mitrano and Danks Burke said he had been helpful in finding a good and safe location for them to speak near the landfill. Shilling also, with a quick gesture, had an operator shut down a heavy dump truck that might have disrupted the press conference.

"Everything that comes in here comports with the law that just passed -- it was our policy ten years ago," he said. "The impact of the change is really nothing on us."

He also said Casella voluntarily installed radiation-detecting equipment when it wasn’t required by the state.

As the event ended, Danks Burke accompanied Shilling for a tour of the Hakes facility.