Today's decision...

New York’s Highest Court Upholds Home Rule

For immediate release---press contacts below.

June 30, 2014
Cooperstown, NY

Today the highest court in New York decisively upheld the power of local governments across New York State to exercise their constitutional Home Rule powers to enact zoning which bans fracking and its infrastructure. This is a David v. Goliath victory for local governments and ordinary citizens who fought for basic rights to self-government and local control in the face of an industry that regularly threatened to crush opposition through lawsuits and damage claims.

The New York Court of Appeals announced its decision in the cases of Cooperstown Holstein Corp. v. Town of Middlefield and Norse Energy Corp. USA v. Town of Dryden and Town of Dryden Town Board. The cases were argued together on June 3, 2014, raising issues regarding the power of local governments to pass zoning which bans heavy industry within their borders, including hydraulic fracturing.

Kelly Branigan and Kim Jastremski, founders of Middlefield Neighbors, speaking on behalf of members of Middlefield Neighbors, stated “We are deeply grateful to our Town Board, headed by David Bliss, which showed courage and perseverance in responding to their citizens’ concerns. We are parents, grandparents, farmers, doctors, and small business owners fighting to protect our rural community and our children’s future, and are relieved to have the Court affirm our right to Home Rule.” They added, “We thank all the attorneys who provided counsel, from Michelle Kennedy, Esq. of Cooperstown to John J. Henry, Esq. of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna and Deborah Goldberg, Esq. of Earthjustice, who represented the towns of Middlefield and Dryden, respectively, and who did so with integrity and skill.”

Otsego 2000 board president Nicole Dillingham stated, “This ruling rightly upholds all communities’ fundamental right, as Justice Lippman stated during oral arguments, to decide how they wish to live. This is a right enshrined in the New York Constitution, and one the Court has once again reaffirmed. Ellen Pope, executive director, thanked the countless supporters of Middlefield’s legal defense, stating “this effort was a tremendous demonstration of the power of community – thanks to all the individuals who contributed, as well as Brewery Ommegang, the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, Elected Officials to Protect New York (co-coordinated by Julie Huntsman, Otsego Town Board) and to all of our local business leaders who supported our right to protect our future.”

"The significance of this decision goes far beyond New York State," said Adrian Kuzminski, Moderator of Sustainable Otsego, a social network resisting natural gas development in New York State. "In affirming the legal right of local communities to control their own destinies by blocking undesirable outside development, it sets serious limits not only on the oil and gas industry, but on corporate power in general. Empowering local communities in this way establishes a key new tool for environmental protection and social justice."

Under the theory advanced by the fracking proponents, Environmental Conservation Law 23-0303, enacted in 1981, pre-empted all local government rights to adopt zoning which interfered with drilling interests. They asserted that local governments had no power to zone-out drilling anywhere it might be permitted by the DEC and that well pads could be installed adjacent to schools, churches, hospitals, homes, in agricultural districts, in pristine forests and near surface and ground water sources that served thousands, without compliance with local zoning.

Relying on the traditional Home Rule power to enact zoning to protect community character, an existing economic base, and the health and safety of residents, more than 180 communities across New York refused to be intimidated and enacted local bans and moratoria prohibiting fracking. Another 80 are working toward bans or moratoria. Their courage and that of the people who made the phone calls, wrote the letters, attended town meetings and vowed to fight is being celebrated today. This is a great day for local government and should serve as a reminder that the people of New York expect their local and State leaders to protect their rights to local control over the character of their communities and the safety of their residents.

Otsego 2000, Middlefield Neighbors, Otsego Neighbors, and Sustainable Otsego also expressed gratitude to the Highest Court of New York State today and by the judges of the lower courts, including the Honorable Ronald F. Cerio and Honorable Phillip R. Rumsey and the Justices of the Third Appellate Department, who issued the legally compelling decisions at the trial and appellate division levels, setting the stage for today’s announcement.

Media Contacts:

Nicole Dillingham, Otsego 2000 board president, 917.434.7241
Ellen Pope, Otsego 2000 executive director, 607.547.8881
Kelly Branigan, Middlefield Neighbors, 607.435.5439
Kim Jastremski, Middlefield Neighbors, 607.643.2023
Adrian Kuzminski, Sustainable Otsego, 607.547.8586
Julie Huntsman, Otsego Neighbors, Otsego Town Board Member, 607.547.7054
Larry Bennett, Brewery Ommegang, 607.267.7597
Lou Allstadt, former Executive Vice President, Mobil Oil Corp., 607.267.7695

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