Bolstered by some success at home in New Paltz, anti-fracking activists said they’re ready to take the fight to the state government up in Albany. They plan to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State-of-the-State address on Jan. 9 to call attention to hydraulic fracturing, the controversial method of extracting natural gas from the earth.
“I would like to see this toxic form of drilling totally banned from our state,” environmentalist Rosalyn Cherry said. “There is a group who believes it should even be criminalized and while I agree, I think it may be too big a jump right now.”
Cherry and others involved in the anti-fracking movement locally said they appreciated the bans passed by the village and town, but they see more work to be done. They see a sense of mission that hasn’t dimmed with the passage of local laws. They see an industry poised to strike, without regard for safe drinking water, at the natural resources we all take for granted.
“Part of what is happening with renewable energy is there are extremely well-funded organizations who demonize renewables and discourage consumers from wholeheartedly accepting new forms of energy. These organizations operate on many levels to sabotage our moving away from continuing to use fossil fuels like shale gas,” she said.
Local officials take pride in blocking hydrofracking
Officials like Supervisor Susan Zimet, with the town, and Ariana Basco, of the Village Board, are proud their boards have taken action to ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The gas extraction technique uses a slurry of chemicals, sand and water. Industry officials have disclosed some of the ingredients. However, independent scientists have found benzene and formaldehyde in the mix – chemicals not listed by the companies.
Zimet has strong ties to the anti-fracking movement and did public relations for groups that want to outlaw the practice before she regained her seat as supervisor. She lists the ban — a series of three laws blocking brine from being used as a de-icer on local roads, fracking waste from being dumped into the sewer and drilling from taking place within the town — as one of her key achievements this term.
Environmentalists also wanted her and the Town Board to pass a “community rights ordinance” (or CRO) based on Pittsburgh’s 2010 anti-fracking law. She’s listened to that request, been open with environmentalists, but ultimately stuck to her guns.
New Paltz went about banning fracking through its zoning law on the basis of legal advice. Zoning bans have held up in court. “That was the safest and best way to go,” the supervisor said. “That’s where we chose as a town to put our resources.”
But it’s also part of a grand bargain with Gov. Cuomo. The state’s top elected official has promised to block fracking from communities that vote against it. “We did what the governor asked us to do to protect our town,” she added.
Village of New Paltz officials took up the town’s ban laws mostly unaltered, and their decision not to pursue a CRO-style ban also rested on an attorney’s advice, according to Trustee Basco.
“That is part of the main idea — we don’t want to be held up in court over this,” she said. “Our attorney — part of his job is to keep us out of lawsuits — he wanted to go with what gave us the most teeth, which I think was the same thinking on the town level.”
Earlier this year, state Supreme Court judges upheld the Dryden and Middlefield’s laws — on which New Paltz’s fracking bans are based. However, the gas companies filed an appeal with the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in October.
Despite their commitment to the current laws, both women said they’d be open to working with the environmentalists to pass the so-called CRO if it was upheld in court.