By Michael Gormley
ALBANY— As state Republican Chairman Ed Cox leads an attack Wednesday on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's indecision over whether to approve hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, Democrats attacked Cox's own personal stock and position with a global natural gas drilling company.
Cox confirmed that he and his wife, Tricia Nixon Cox, a daughter of the late President Richard Nixon, have $2 million to $3 million in stock of Noble Energy and he collects six-figure fees for his work on the company's board.
But Cox told The Associated Press that his personal stake Houston-based company has nothing to do with his leading role in criticizing the Democratic governor running for re-election. Cox's effort was to begin in earnest Wednesday night in an unpaid speech Cox will make in Buffalo to the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York.
The New York Public Interest Research Group, a good-government advocate, said Cox's stake in the gas company creates a murky ethical area, but the investment doesn't appears to violate any laws.
"It's sort of a trifecta of murkiness," said the organization's Blair Horner. "The personal, the professional and the political all coming together in one person."
Cox isn't lobbying for Noble Energy. He also said the company doesn't have business in New York and doesn't plan any. As state party chairman, he is trying to pave a route for a Republican to take on Cuomo in the governor's race next year. But the state Republican Committee hasn't yet taken a formal position on hydrofracking.
"Whether anything happens in New York or not is not going to have a significant impact at all for me personally," he said. "... It won't impact my Noble stock."
Cox said, however, that if his company was seeking to business in New York, he would likely not take the same approach against Cuomo. He said he's using the drilling issue as an example of Cuomo making political decisions for his own good over the economic needs of New Yorkers.
"If we were invested in New York, say, in a big way, I don't think I would be raising it," Cox said. "I don't think I would be out there the way I am now of using this as an example of the governor's process. ... This is an obvious one."
Republicans employed a strategy similar to Cox's against the governor's father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, who was dubbed "Hamlet on the Hudson" by critics for his lengthy consideration of whether to run for president.
Democrats attacked Cox's criticism of Andrew Cuomo.
"Ed Cox's position on fracking is nothing more than shilling for his personal financial interests," said Rodney Capel, executive director of the state Democratic Committee headed by Cuomo. "If Cox sells the GOP to the highest bidder, he should at least be up front about his personal stake in the industry."
There is strong opposition to hydraulic fracturing among Cuomo's liberal base of voters. The relatively new technique, also called fracking, injects massive amounts of water and chemicals deep underground to extract oil and gas. It has brought economic booms to areas that allow it, including in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but critics cite concerns about possible damage to drinking water. Cuomo says he is waiting for a public health report he ordered his health commissioner to undertake months ago before deciding whether to lift the moratorium on fracking.
Cuomo has set and missed deadlines to decide whether to approve fracking in upstate areas that lie above the huge Marcellus Shale oil deposit. That has angered some Southern Tier residents who feel the industry will finally turn around the area's long-distressed economy.
Cuomo is seeking to reclaim his once lofty popularity upstate, which began to erode after he pushed through gun control laws this year.