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Local News

April 3, 2014

State's top court to hear home-rule cases

COOPERSTOWN — New York’s highest court will hear the twin cases that are expected to determine whether local communities are empowered to prohibit shale gas drilling within their borders on June 3 in Albany.

The cases testing the home rule authority of local governments stem from bans enacted against fracking in 2011 by the Otsego County town of Middlefield and the Tompkins County town of Dryden. Both municipal actions were upheld by state Supreme Court justices before those decisions were reaffirmed by appellate courts.

The Middlefield and Dryden bans have been followed by scores of similar declarations by communities across the state, including numerous moratoriums and prohibitions enacted by communities in Otsego, Delaware and Chenango counties.

The lower court decisions upholding the Middlefield and Dryden bans as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s hesitation to allow hydrofracking permits to be issued in New York are the “two nails in the coffin that have to be removed” for the gas industry to renew its interest in drilling in the state, said energy industry lawyer Thomas West of Albany.

“We just need a fair reading of the law,” said West, whose firm represents both Norse Energy and Cooperstown Holstein Co., the dairy farm owned by Jennifer Huntington.

Another pending case of crucial significance, West said, is the lawsuit brought by Norse Energy challenging the state’s “political” delay of a decision on fracking permits in New York allegedly orchestrated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo assigned state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to study the health impacts of fracking more than a year ago. Shah said recently he does not know how much longer his research will take. The Court of Appeals’ seven members are gubernatorial appointees confirmed by the state Senate.

As for the upcoming Court of Appeals hearing now on the calendar, Otsego County Rep. Beth Rosenthal, D-Roseboom, who represents Middlefield, said she was looking forward to the case concluding.

“We need this decision because it will eliminate the uncertainty,” she said. “I feel somewhat confident that we will prevail. New York is a home-rule state, and it has passed in two lower courts. I’ll be really surprised if we don’t get a home run out of it.”

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