On June 3rd, lawyers from Earthjustice will argue to New York’s highest court that the town board of Dryden, NY, has the right to ban fracking within its borders.
Gas company Norse Energy has sued the Town of Dryden to try to negate its town council’s 2011 unanimous vote to ban fracking. Dryden’s decision has withstood challenges at two lower levels of New York’s judicial system, but this decision in the state’s highest court will be the one that sets precedent.
Dryden’s initial efforts to ban fracking were organized by a group of citizens with legal help from Helen Slottje, a lawyer who has since won the prestigious Goldman Prize for her work on this issue. Once the gas industry sued the Town of Dryden, Earthjustice volunteered to take on the case and has represented the town in this legal battle.
Earthjustice has produced a video, narrated by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, which tells the story of the Dryden residents who organized the petition drive that led to the unanimous town board vote establishing the ban on fracking.
Since Dryden’s efforts, more than 350 other communities nationwide have enacted similar bans. However, the Dryden decision is the one that has been challenged by the oil and gas industry and will stand as precedent.
All of the usual suspects have filed briefs opposing the ban. The American Petroleum Institute and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have filed an amicus brief, in which they argue that local governments have no rights when it comes to drilling for oil and gas within their borders. The brief argues that the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has exclusive authority on these matters and that the current position of New York’s lower courts would “eviscerate NYSDEC's established protections designed to ensure the reliability and safety of these systems.”
Arguing the other side are entities like Brewery Ommegang, located in Cooperstown, NY. Cooperstown is the home of the baseball hall of fame and was recently visited by President Barack Obama, who promoted tourism for the region. While President Obama is a supporter of fracking, Cooperstown and Brewery Ommegang are not. In their filing for the case they cite the following statement from the baseball Hall of Fame.
As a member of the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, the Hall of Fame supports the Chamber's recent resolution that hydrofracking could cause serious damage to the qualities that make Cooperstown a world-renowned tourist destination and a unique community. Like the chamber and virtually every other area business, the Hall of Fame concludes that hydrofracking could present an unacceptable risk to the local environment, the economy and the quality of life for both residents and tourists.
Earthjustice lawyer Deborah Goldberg told DeSmogBlog that the gas industry’s argument is that “they should be allowed an unprecedented entitlement to disregard local community character.”
Essentially, this case is about a simple premise: do the rights of the oil and gas industry trump the rights of local governments to decide how their land will be developed? In the first two rounds of this case, the courts decided in favor of the local governments. Stay tuned for what happens in Round Three.