A Victory for Local Control re: Fracking

Localities in New York State appear to have won the right to ban fracking, thanks to a decision by the state's highest court on June 30 in favor of two towns that had been sued by oil and gas companies. It was a victory for local land use control, and for citizens who have seen evidence in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that fracking can be incredibly damaging to the landscape and a threat to groundwater supplies.

It remains to be seen whether the federal government will intervene here. Generally the feds are hell-bent on supporting fracking, especially given their push to eliminate coal power plants. Replacement plants will likely depend on a steady diet of natural gas, which fracking provides. The government also is likely to support a number of new pipelines that will carry the increasing flow of natural gas across multiple states in the Mid-Atlantic

Often state or federal governments have laws in place to curb local control when it comes to utilities such as telecommunications, electric power and oil and gas. The intent, one might argue, is to keep individual communities from fouling up the network of pipelines and other facilities that bring service across multiple geographic boundaries. But it also means a town or county may have zero ability to impose conditions on a power company or pipeline operator to ensure a minimum standard of safety is achieved. And often state regulations are lax. In the case of fracking, the EPA has turned a blind eye, even as it cracks down on the coal industry by cutting off demand.

So the New York court decision, if it holds up over time, is a powerful one. It is likely to resonate in other states where the same battles over local control are raging. 

(Photo credit: CC BY, Flickr user CREDO.fracking.)

David Holtzman is a planner for Louisa County, Virginia, a freelance writer, and a former Shelterforce editor.


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