Until recently, few people outside of New York had heard of Dryden and Middlefield. But these two towns are now on the lips of environmental activists everywhere as they’ve become part of the battle cry against hydrofracking.
New York’s highest court issued a 5-2 decision upholding the legal theory called “municipal home rule” that has supported scores of municipal bans on oil and gas production in the state. Dryden and Middlefield’s cases were the first to reach the state’s Court of Appeals. The two upstate communities were being sued by large energy corporations that insisted they had a right to frack within their jurisdictions although both towns had zoning laws in place that prohibited some of the practices involved in hydrofracking.
This decision has broad legal implications, not only for other towns in the state, but for municipalities across the U.S. that are trying to prohibit fracking. While the ruling holds no legal precedent outside New York, it’s not uncommon for regional and state courts to reference legal proceedings in other states when handing down decisions.
“This is a victory for local control,” say Linda Lavine, a Dryden Town Board member. “It is a victory for liberals and conservatives of all sorts. It is what democracy is all about.”
At issue in the case was whether the two towns had the right, under New York’s home rule laws – which allow municipalities the ultimate authority regarding land use – to use existing zoning laws to limit industry in the town. The plaintiffs, notably the multi-billion-dollar Anchutz Exploration Corporation, insisted that state regulations on energy extraction superseded any town zoning regulations that would either limit or effectively ban an industry from operating there.