The recent decisions by the Appellate Division of the New York state Supreme Court upholding the lower court decisions in the cases of Cooperstown Holstein v. Town of Middlefield and Norse Energy v. Town of Dryden were good news for “home rule” advocates.
The importance of these cases goes beyond the direct effect of confirming that towns have the right to prohibit natural gas extraction within their borders. They confirm the long-standing power of local municipalities in New York state to govern themselves, under what is commonly referred to as “home rule,” except in those situations in which state law clearly takes precedence.
So, whether you oppose hydrofracking or are in favor of it, and whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent, a conservative, a liberal or a libertarian, then you should welcome this judicial affirmation of the home rule authority of local government and you should hope that the appeal of these decisions to the New York state Court of Appeals (the highest court in NYS) goes in favor of local governments. If not, then we have to ask if home rule really means anything or is just some nice-sounding verbiage applicable only to unimportant matters.
We, the people, in numerous towns in Otsego County and across the state, have made it clear that we do not want hydrofracking in our communities. If the state wants to usurp our power to prohibit it, then let the state, if legislators dare, enact a law that explicitly takes that right away from us.
Edward T. Lentz
Lentz is a New Lisbon town councilman and announced candidate for the Otsego County Legislature in District 5.