June 30, 2014
ITHACA, NY — Today, in a precedent-setting ruling, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the rights of local towns over big oil and gas companies with its decision in Matter of Wallach, Trustee for Norse Energy v. Town of Dryden.
The Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition and Town of Dryden officials will host a press conference today, Monday, June 30 at 12 PM at the Ithaca Town Court in Ithaca, to discuss the implications of this ruling, which gives legal backing to the more than 170 municipalities across New York State which have taken measures, similar to those in Dryden and Middlefield, that protect their residents from the dangers of fracking and gas and oil development.
This legal battle showcased the fight between local community rights and the oil and gas industry. After the towns of Dryden and Middlefield used local zoning laws to ban heavy industry development, including oil and gas operations within their borders, they faced legal challenges from industry officials looking to use the land for fracking and gas projects.
Today’s press conference will include Jason Leifer, Dryden Town Board deputy supervisor who initiated the effort to protect Dryden against gas drilling and rallied the support needed to pass a ban; Linda Lavine, Dryden Town Board Council Member who was instrumental in bringing townspeople together to support the ban through her run for a board seat and convinced the board to retain Deborah Goldberg through Earthjustice for the appeals, leading to this final win; Don Barber, Town of Caroline supervisor who led the neighboring Town of Caroline in a hard-won fight to ban gas drilling and fracking; and Barbara Lifton, Assemblywoman for the NY 125th District, who supported and championed efforts to ban fracking at every step of the process.
Dryden’s story began in 2009, after residents pressured by oil and gas company representatives to lease their land for gas development learned more about fracking, the technique companies planned to use to extract the gas. Residents organized and educated their fellow citizens for more than two years under the banner of the Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC), ultimately convincing the town board to amend its zoning ordinance in August 2011 to clarify that oil and gas development activities, including fracking, were prohibited.
Just six weeks after the town board passed the measure in a unanimous bi-partisan vote, Anschutz Exploration Corporation (a privately held company owned by a Forbes-ranked billionaire) sued the town. Dryden argued that their right to make local land use decisions, enshrined in the home rule provision of the New York State Constitution, applies to oil and gas development. In February 2012, a state trial court judge agreed. In May 2013, a panel of judges in a mid-level appeals court unanimously sided with the town. Today’s decision by New York’s highest court is the final ruling in the matter.