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May 9, 2013

Home rule decision is good for all

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The Daily Star

---- — What lawyer Thomas West called an “exit strategy” for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, we call common sense, plain and simple. 

The state Appellate Division’s recent ruling on two municipal drilling bans should be seen as a victory for those on both sides of the fracking debate. 

Since there is little agreement between the two camps on this issue, this merits some explanation. 

The court’s decision is a de facto endorsement of the concept of “home rule,” which entails letting individual municipalities choose whether to ban or allow natural gas drilling. 

Up until now, towns that have enacted bans or moratoriums on drilling have done so under the threat of lawsuit. In the case of the town of Middlefield, the threat was made good by the Cooperstown Holstein Corp. Fighting the lawsuit cost the town about $100,000, which Town Supervisor Dave Bliss said has been funded through donations from supporters of home rule. 

Middlefield’s case, along with a similar one in the town of Dryden, were the ones ruled on recently by the Appellate Division. The two have been widely perceived as test cases that will show towns the way forward in this fight over fracking. 

We have grave concerns about the safety of horizontal fracking, and would feel much more comfortable if it didn’t happen in New York state at all. But if the state Department of Environmental Conservation does green-light the process and allow it in some parts of the state, it’s essential that individual communities have the ability to protect themselves from the potential negative impacts of this process. 

It’s true, as West suggests, the decision is also politically expedient for Cuomo. The governor now has the ability to say, “I’m going to allow this for those who want it, and not for those who don’t,” which is about the best possible situation a politician could hope to be in. And he hasn’t had to expend any political capital to get there. 

The same could be said for Sen. James Seward of Milford, whose home-rule bill was left to languish. Or other politicians who have been dodging the issue by saying they are awaiting more information from the DEC. 

Of course, all that hemming and hawing has come at a cost. Just ask the town of Middlefield — or, more properly, all the people who coughed up money to help the town fight its legal battle. 

Was it worth it? Absolutely. But it would have been nice to see a little more leadership on this issue from Albany. 

In the meantime, we hope to see the conversation about fracking continuing in earnest in our towns and villages. If we can’t get leadership in the capital, at least we can get it here at home.