Congressman Scott Murphy makes local stops; offers updates on regional issues

By Julia Green
It was only fitting that a stop along the way for Congressman Scott Murphy’s whistle-stop tour of sorts last Thursday was the Delaware & Ulster Railroad in Arkville, where he presented the railroad with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for Historic Preservation. In addition to the presentation, the congressman also fielded questions from local citizens on a number of pressing issues, including gas drilling, health care, and agricultural issues.
Fielding his first question from the assembled audience, Murphy addressed the pressing issue of gas drilling, which has been in the spotlight for a number of weeks.
“Having clean water is fundamental to being able to live,” he said. “We can’t do anything to put our water supply at risk.”
He added that he would look at any proposal that would guarantee that drilling would not compromise the integrity of the water supply, and that energy independence has “clear benefits to America, but it doesn’t make any sense to go forward if we’re putting our water supply at risk.”
Murphy also added that the drilling process “can’t be a nuisance for neighbors and can’t drive away business,” which he said would be addressed during the permit process.
“There’s no reason we should trade a new economic development issue for something that drives us backward,” he added, acknowledging the possible impact that drilling would have on things like surrounding roads and infrastructure. “We’re not going to do it like Texas would do it,” he said. “This is New York, and we do things differently up here.”
Murphy also addressed the hot-button issue of health care, which has seen a lot of play in news coverage in recent weeks, as the House and Senate each passed versions of health care reform bills that now go to a conference committee that is charged with ironing out the differences between the two versions before it can be sent to the president.
“It’ll be long,” he said of the process. Murphy voted no on the House bill, which he said he felt did a number of things constituents want, but with which he had some problems.
“In general, I think people want reform,” he acknowledged, identifying the three key areas of concern as accessibility, insurance reform and affordability. “If we had those three elements working well, and could take some of the Senate’s good and put it with some of the House good, I can see a bill I would support.”
Murphy added that he believed that while the House bill adequately addressed the issues of accessibility and insurance, it didn’t do nearly enough on the affordability side, which was better addressed by the Senate bill.
“I don’t think we’ll see a public option,” he added. “I think that will look more like the Senate bill. But I’m hopeful we’ll keep the wellness incentives that the Senate had.”
Fielding a question from Middletown Supervisor Len Utter, Murphy, who is one of 46 members on the House Committee on Agriculture, also addressed the dire realities facing area dairy farmers.
“I’m aware of the problems and we’re working hard on it,” he said, adding that a key issue hurting American dairy farms is the fact that the United States does not meet some of the international requirements for dairy exports. “Our quality is high up here,” he said, adding that raising the United States’ quality requirements would greatly help area farmers, both domestically and in the export market.
He also spoke to the importance of extending cell phone and broadband Internet service in areas like the Catskills, which he likened to rural electrification in the 1930s. Murphy posed the argument that the lack of such things makes it near impossible to keep young people and businesses in the local area, while adding that the lack of reliable cell services presents real safety risks, as evidenced by an incident last year in which a couple went off the roadway along I-87 in an area where a lack of cell service made them unable to phone for help.
“I haven’t figured out a plan other than jawboning AT&T and Verizon,” he said, “and obviously you get into issues with the viewshed and how that works.”
Murphy also briefly touched on the stimulus package, which he said he felt did a good job making Small Business Administration (SBA) loans more accessible to small businesses, and added that work is being done to increase amounts of loans from $2 million to $5 million. Six weeks ago, Murphy unveiled new legislation to help small business create jobs; The Business Checking Fairness Act would repeal a law dating back to the Great Depression that prevents small businesses from earning interest on their business accounts. The additional available capital for small businesses would promote growth and job creation. The legislation is currently sitting in the Senate.
Murphy’s Thursday visit to Middletown was one of the day’s 10 appearances in areas around Delaware and Greene counties, which included stops in Masonville, Andes, Bovina Center, South Kortright, Harpersfield, Stamford and Halcott Center. The following day, Murphy completed his pledge to visit all 137 towns in the 20th District.