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New York's highest court allows towns to ban fracking

A fracking site in Harford Township, Pa.

Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

A fracking site in Harford Township, Pa.

New York State’s highest court ruled today that towns are allowed to ban hydraulic fracturing within their borders.
From the New York Times:

The two towns at the center of the case – Dryden, in rural Tompkins County, and Middlefield, in Otsego County – amended their zoning laws in recent years to ban fracking, on the basis that it would threaten the health, the environment and, in Middlefield’s case, the “rural character” of the community.

Subsequently, an energy company that had acquired oil and gas leases in Dryden and a dairy farm in Middlefield that had leased land to a gas drilling company filed legal complaints, arguing that the town ordinances were pre-empted by state oil and gas law.

On Monday, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed a lower-court ruling rejecting that argument, and found that the towns did indeed have the authority to ban fracking through land use regulations.

The seven-judge panel was split 5 to 2 on the case. The majority, in its decision, made clear that it was not ruling on the benefits or risks of fracking, simply on a question of the division of power between state and local governments.

Shale gas development has been on hold in New York since 2008 when the state began an ongoing environmental review process.

Earlier this year the head of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation told reporters he believes it’s “extremely unlikely” his agency would issue permits before 2015. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo has remained largely silent on the issue, saying he will allow science to decide the matter.

Over the years, the state has missed a series of self-imposed deadlines to finalize its environmental review.

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