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State's high court OKs fracking bans

Local officials praise ‘home-rule’ ruling

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
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Abram Loeb of Afton holds an anti-fracking sign outside President Barack Obama's speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on May 22.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
Abram Loeb of Afton holds an anti-fracking sign outside President Barack Obama's speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown on May 22.

— Elected officials in Schoharie County were ecstatic about the state Court of Appeals’ ruling Monday morning that gives municipalities the right to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders.

They say the ruling provides municipalities with “home-rule” and gives them authority to regulate land use.

The state’s top court ratified a midlevel appeals court ruling from last year that said state oil and gas law doesn’t trump the authority of local governments to control land use through zoning.

In a 5-2 decision, the court stressed that it did not consider the value of the ban, but only that it wanted to give “home rule” authority to municipalities to control their land use.

In April, the Schoharie County Legislature passed a law banning the controversial drilling procedure.

Other municipalities in the county to pass similar legislation include the towns of Schoharie, Sharon and Blenheim.

On July 17, the Richmondville Town Board will hold a public comment session to gauge how residents feel about allowing hydraulic fracturing in the town.

Soon after, board members will vote on whether to adjust zoning laws to prohibit fracking for natural gas.

The Richmondville Town Board has previously stated it is opposed to hydraulic fracturing.

Town Supervisor Richard Lape said each municipality in the state should have final say on hydraulic fracturing.

“I think the ruling by the court is great,” he said. “It gives home-rule to people so that they can decide what they want in their communities.”

Environmentalists have argued that high-volume hydraulic fracturing — a natural gas extraction process that blasts water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to release the gas — will contaminate water supplies and pollute the air.

In 2008, when former Gov. David Paterson was in office, the state placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

More than a year ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tasked the state Department of Health with reviewing the health implications that could result from hyrdraulic fracturing.

He has said he is waiting for Health Department Commissioner Howard Zucker to release the report before he makes a decision on whether to legalize the drilling process.

He has received pressure from environmentalists in the state who want him to place a permanent ban on natural gas extraction.

No timetable has been announced for the release of the review.

In 2012, the town of Schoharie placed a one-year ban on hydraulic fracturing. Six months later the town lifted the ban and adjusted its land-use laws to prohibit hydrofracking for natural gas.

Schoharie town Supervisor Eugene Milone said the law is “the closest thing you can get to a ban.”

“This process has proven to contaminate drinking water,” he said. “Why aren’t people getting the message that this is not good?”

Milone added that he is “elated” about the court’s decision, saying the ruling is “right on the money by giving home-rule.”

Anthony VanGlad, chairman of the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors, said there needs to be more research before hydraulic fracturing can be legalized.

“The decision is important because it puts the power of what to do with the environment in the hands of local politicians,” VanGlad said.

Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Democrat who represents parts of Schoharie County, provided a statement following the court’s decision.

“I applaud the state Court of Appeals for upholding local governments’ land-use rights,” Tkaczyk said. “Ensuring that municipalities have the right to ban hydrofracking is a common-sense way to respect the will of the voters and have them determine what may or may not take place in their own backyards.”

 
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