HOME RULE – A COMMUNITY’S LAST LINE OF DEFENSE AGAINST FRACKING
Despite the passage in the New York State Assembly of three crucial pieces of legislation concerning natural gas extraction, the legislative session ended yesterday without New York State Senate approval.
The Assembly-approved bills include:
- The Moratorium Bill: would enact a one-year moratorium on gas drilling using hydrofracking
- The Hazardous Waste Bill: would close a loophole exploited by gas industries to avoid requirements for the disposal of hazardous waste
- The Home Rule Bill: would clarify the right of local communities to pass bans and ordinances in relation to drilling activities
While Senate Democrats demonstrated wide support for all three bills, the leadership of the Republican-controlled Senate did not let them come to the floor. If drilling were to begin in parts of New York State, vigorous federal and state regulation of its hazardous impacts would offer the most uniform and far-reaching protection for air, water and quality of life in communities. However, in the absence of what is likely to be insufficient regulation, Home Rule initiatives may be a community’s last line of defense against fracking.
Throughout the Catskills and neighboring areas, more and more communities are exploring the use of bans and ordinances on the local level to safeguard aquifers and regulate zoning, hazardous waste, and road use in order to protect them from the highly destructive practice of hydrofracking.
The New York State Assembly Home Rule bill sought to end the confusion about whether local zoning ordinances are preempted by state law and regulation in relation to the oil, gas, and solution mining industries because municipalities within New York State may not regulate these industries. However, many communities have already started to pass bans and ordinances that would regulate land use and other matters involving public health, safety and welfare that fall outside of the State’s regulatory program.
In the last couple of weeks many towns have adopted ordinances to ban hydrofracking. On June 14, 2011, the Town of Wales adopted a ban on the practice, and the Town of Ulysses is clarifying an already-existing ban, which exists under current town zoning on heavy industrial use. Two weeks ago, the Towns of Springfield and Middlefield in Otsego County followed the Town of Otsego in adopting measures to prohibit natural gas drilling and hydrofracking. The Town of Dryden voted to put a zoning amendment to ban hydrofracking on the table and scheduled a public hearing for July 20th, and the town of Oneonta received a petition from more than 1/3 of its registered voters to ban drilling and hydrofracking.
These are only some of the communities that are taking action and they are showing that it can be done.