In the ongoing struggle to start gas drilling in New York State, those who oppose it, including State Senator James Seward of Oneonta (a RINO), are trying a new tactic. That new tactic is to take the fight local, in town by town, by using “home rule” laws. But they have a hurdle to jump first: New York State law currently does not permit local municipalities to regulate oil and gas drilling.
This home rule tactic will be a key focus of environmental groups in the new legislative session that begins Wednesday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state-of-the-state address in Albany.
Legislation is planned that would give local governments veto power over natural gas drilling through zoning authority. Sen. James Seward, an Oneonta Republican, who is co-sponsoring the proposal, also called on Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens to address the need for home rule authority within regulations that Martens’ agency is proposing.
Home rule legislation passed the Assembly last session but not the Senate. Seward introduced a similar bill at the end of the 2011 session and will re-introduce it.
New York law does allow municipalities to zone mining activities that have significant surface impacts, such as gravel mines. But in 1981, state law was amended to exempt oil and gas from mining activities subject to local regulations. The home rule bills would remove that exemption.*
“But what about the bans already enacted by towns and cities, like the recent Binghamton fracking ban?” you may ask. Good question! In all likelihood those bans are illegal under current state law. In two cases bans are being challenged in New York State Supreme Court. But if Seward and other anti-drillers have their way, the law will be re-written to allow local bans, and then the fight goes local—town by town.
*Middletown Times Herald-Record (Jan 2, 2012) – NY gas drilling opponents aim for local bans