Another potential consequence of last week’s ruling is that another wave of New York towns and villages will enact their own bans or moratoriums against gas drilling, said Deborah Goldberg, the New York City-based Earthjustice attorney who aided the defense of the Middlefield law that was upheld by the midlevel appeals courts.
As for Cuomo, Goldberg said: “The governor is willing to abide by the law. DEC (the state Department of Environmental Conservation) has not stepped into any of this litigation. The clear message is that DEC and the governor recognize that it is perfectly possible to operate with or without these local bans.”
Goldberg added: “There is no evidence that by giving localities that power you are somehow going to make it impossible for the industry to proceed in New York.”
The doctrine of home rule, of course, goes well beyond making gas drilling off-limits or permitting it. One of those spearheading opposition to Cuomo’s plan to allow casino gambling parlors in upstate New York, Dr. Stephen Shafer of Saugerties, noted zoning can be used both in a “a defense mode” and “a welcome mode.”
The ruling involving the towns of Middlefield and Dryden, Shafer said, should serve as a reminder to towns to make sure they all have comprehensive plans that embody the visions they have for their communities and protect the character they want to maintain while allowing for a level of development they think is consistent with that vision.
“Every town should have a comprehensive plan,” said Shafer, chairman of the Coalition Against Gambling in New York.
When it zeroed in on the drill bans enacted by Dryden and Middlefield, the gas industry, said Adrian Kuzminski, founder of the anti-fracking group Sustainable Otsego, raised the stakes by using the courts to try to stifle the home-rule initiatives. That, in turn, caused the environmental movement to rally around those towns that voted to keep out drillers, he said.