Fracking Ban a Big Step in the Right Direction

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Tompkins Weekly 12-29-14

By Helen Slottje

The prospects for fracking in New York were dimmed considerably, if not permanently, by the unexpected announcement on December 17th that the long awaited state environmental review of fracking will come to an end in 2015 with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issuing its finding that high volume hydraulic fracturing will be prohibited in New York.

This statewide ban on fracking is particularly gratifying to the scores of grassroots groups across the state that have been relentless in their demand for a ban, many for more than seven years. This is also is an unprecedented victory over fossil fuel interests not accustomed to losing and whom have historically been catered to by state and federal legislators content to deliver the industry special tax subsidies as well as outright exemptions from having to comply with laws that apply to the rest of us.

Many activists have compared both the deceptive tactics and untrue claims of the frackers to those of the tobacco industry, an industry’s whose motto is deny, delay and confuse. Their concerns were echoed by Dr. Zucker, the acting Commissioner of the Department of Health (DOH), who was responsible for completing the public health review of fracking. In the meeting announcing the fracking ban, he recalled being a child and flying in the purported “no smoking” section, just seats away from the smokers. It was until years later that the common sense approach (“Clearly we can still smell the smoke”) was validated by the Surgeon General and what was once thought to be harmless was shown to be dangerous. Today it is taken for granted that you can’t smoke in an airplane, and for that matter, in most public places. The lesson learned from the tobacco fight is that we shouldn’t have to wait for scientific certainty to decide that something that on its face looks like a bad idea is a bad idea.

The frackers took the position that they could and should frack anywhere and everywhere they wanted. Some even go so far as to raise their “constitutional right” to frack. There is no more a constitutional right to frack next to someone’s home then there is to light up next to someone on a plane, in a movie theater or while in a waiting room. Property rights have never included the right to harm your neighbor. Which makes sense, property rights and property obligations go hand in hand.

New York’s decision to ban fracking proactively protects the health, safety and welfare of millions of citizens. In the absence of definitive proof that fracking’s harms can be mitigated or that they are insignificant, the decision to ban fracking signifies the acceptance of our responsibility to future generations and a recognition that it is much easier to irreparably damage a resource than to fix a mistake.

Governor Cuomo concluded this historic meeting by noting that he has spent quite a bit of time in the Southern Tier and that very few people who say to him ‘I love the idea of fracking.’ Basically they say, ‘I have no alternative’ because there is no other economy for me, besides fracking. This is our very next challenge: to build a sustainable, vibrant, resilient local economy that is not dependent upon fracking the very bedrock of our communities.

Helen Slottje is the managing attorney of Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Ithaca that can be found online at Helen and David Slottje have assisted scores and scores of NY municipalities to enact enforceable local laws prohibiting fracking and related activities within their municipal borders.





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