Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund explains how communities can fight corporate power with a new legal weapon.
These last few days for gas drilling news in New York as been critical and a new level of urgency has been reached as the country watches how New York defines and decides its fate, the future of its famous unfiltered water supply, and communities in the directly impacted regions, whether for or against drilling are forging ahead to determine their immediate future and that for future generations.
It’s coming down to Home Rule and self-determination as a way to protect municipalities from fracking. As the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) releases New Recommendations for Drilling in New York explained in the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) released a few days ago, environmental groups, like Catskill Mountainkeeper are calling for a statewide ban and municipalities organize to decide the fate of their towns.
One of the important and positive points in the otherwise very problematic and potentially dangerous draft, combined with a governor apparently wanting to surge forward with gas extraction is this: “Local Land Use & Zoning: Applicant must certify that a proposed activity is consistent with local land use and zoning laws. Failure to certify or a challenge by a locality would trigger additional DEC review before a permit could be issued.” These words in the SGEIS give further power to Home Rule.
The Highland and Lumberland Committees on Energy and the Environment formed last year to decide the fate of their towns. They sponsored a forum on February 19th that was held at the Eldred High School to talk about the options that municipalities have to protect themselves from being industrialized and how the power of Home Rule can be preserved. The speakers were Helen Slottje, an attorney with the Community Environmental Defense Council based in Ithaca, NY and Ben Price, the Projects Director from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) located in Chambersburg, PA. Ben Price has been advising residents about stopping fracking in their communities acting on the premise that they already have the right to say no. He states, “…You have the right to protect your community, your families, your kids, your property values, your drinking water. These are fundamental rights…”
More towns in upstate New York are re-writing their plans and residents are becoming involved in their town politics whether organizing educational meetings, deciding to run for office and reaching out for advice. One such person is Narrowsburg resident Andrea Reynosa, an artist and farmer who lives with her family on a homestead that has been farmed since 1841. Their farm includes river frontage on the East Ten Mile River and sits in the Delaware River Valley, an area under urgent threat from drilling as its neighbor Pennsylvania sits across the Delaware with drill pads in the watershed waiting for approval.
Andrea says, “In November of 2010, we created a local chapter of Concerned Citizens, Tusten Concerned Citizens, whose primary focus is initiating and establishing stringent Land Use laws into our municipal zoning ordinances that address Heavy Industrial Use, i.e. gas drilling, to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Town of Tusten. The Town of Tusten is working with Helen and David Slottje and the Tusten Concerned Citizens along with its First Saturday of the Month SkyDog Supper Club will be hosting a Democracy School led by Ben Price later this year.” In addition to organizing the town hall meeting supper club as a place for community engagement, Andrea and her partner Kevin Vertrees have been organizing collaborative art events, Flow Projects that are celebrations of pure water as their community is threatened by drilling and hydraulic fracturing.