Anti-Fracking Activists Celebrate Victory in New York State

Jessica Corbett

New York State’s Court of Appeals upheld a ruling Monday that allows municipalities to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at a local level. At the heart of the debate, two central New York towns—Dryden and Middlefield—banned the practice within town borders in 2011, using local zoning laws. The tricky policy change triggered lawsuits from the gas and oil industry.Following Monday’s ruling, the Dryden Town Supervisor office released a statement: Dryden’s story began in 2009, after residents pressured by oil and gas company representatives to lease their land for gas development learned more about fracking, the technique companies planned to use to extract the gas. Residents organized and educated their fellow citizens for more than two years under the banner of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC), ultimately convincing the town board to amend its zoning ordinance in August 2011 to clarify that oil and gas development activities, including fracking, were prohibited.Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Legal experts say the decision made by the state of New York Court of Appeals will have ramifications for more than 170 towns and cities in the state that have banned or enacted moratoria on fracking, according to FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that monitors gas drilling.”By contrast, the AP reports that 40 New York towns have passed resolutions in favor of fracking.A statewide moratorium on fracking has been in effect since July 2008. The state Assembly voted to extend the measure by three years, but the bill did not pass the state Senate before the legislative session adjourned in mid-June. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he will not issue a decision about the lifting the state’s moratorium until the health impact review—launched in 2012—is complete.But even if the state ban is lifted, local governments can now ban fracking within town or city limits, thanks to Monday’s ruling.In the Court’s majority opinion, Associate Judge Victoria Graffeo wrote, These appeals are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of New York, and we pass no judgment on its merits. … These are major policy questions for the coordinate branches of government to resolve. The discrete issue before us, and the only one we resolve today, whether the State Legislature eliminated the home rule capacity of municipalities to pass zoning laws that exclude oil, gas and hydrofracking activities in order to preserve the existing character of their communities.

Jessica Corbett, a former In These Times intern, is a Maine-based staff writer at Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter at @corbett_jessica.
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