As one might expect, the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York — an organization that promotes hydrofracking for natural gas — is ecstatic about the decision Thursday of the state’s highest court to determine whether municipalities have the right of home rule.
“We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals will protect the rights of landowners and allow New York to realize the environmental and economic benefits of natural gas while allowing our nation to maintain its course towards energy independence,” read a statement by a lawyer who works with the organization.
But we believe that those on both sides of the contentious fracking debate should welcome the prospect of home rule closure when the Court of Appeals takes up the issue, probably in the spring, with a decision expected in July.
The Otsego County town of Middlefield and the Tompkins County town of Dryden prevailed in state Supreme Court and mid-level appeals court decisions, and it is not unexpected that the case would make its way to the Court of Appeals.
Jennifer Huntington, operator of Cooperstown Holstein Corp., has said a zoning change by Middlefield in 2011 stopped her plans to have a conventional gas well at her property. The appeals court ruling held that the town had the right to ban gas exploration as long as it wasn’t regulating it.
“We hold that (current law) does not preempt, either expressly or impliedly, a municipality’s power to enact a local zoning ordinance banning all activities related to the exploration for, and the production or storage of, natural gas and petroleum within its borders,” the court said.
Make no mistake, this is a very important case that will be carefully watched, particularly by about 50 New York municipalities that have banned gas drilling, and more than 100 that have enacted moratoriums on drilling activities.