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Seward wants home rule on gas drilling

May 24, 2011 11:02 pm
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="245" caption="James Seward on the State Senate floor during recent budget talks. Photo from Seward website."][/caption]State Senator James L. Seward (R/C/I – Oneonta) -- who represents Greene and several other counties in Albany -- announced Tue. May 24 that he is co-sponsoring legislation that would give local governments veto power over natural gas drilling, or hydraulic fracturing, through zoning authority. “The topic of drilling in the Marcellus Shale has elicited an overwhelming response with varied opinions on all sides of the issue. One thing that cannot be discounted moving forward is the desire of local residents,” Seward's press release read. “That is why I am co-sponsoring legislation (S.3472) that would empower local governments and allow them to regulate natural gas drilling through local planning and zoning.” Along with co-sponsoring S.3472, Seward also called on New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens to apply similar rules. “As the DEC finalizes regulations aimed at providing us with a thorough blueprint of how to drill for natural gas, they should take into account the home rule ethic the state accords to local governments,” said Seward.

The letter Seward wrote Martens, in full:

"Dear Commissioner Martens:

As you know, the issue of natural gas drilling has prompted concerns relative to its safety and its environmental side effects. The department is in the process of completing revisions to the supplemental generic environmental impact statement (sGEIS), and I understand the complexity of issues that must be considered.

Several towns within my district have already acted to rule out natural gas drilling under their home rule authority through zoning and land use regulation.

It seems to me that one basic issue that the state should address in the sGEIS, if not legislatively, is the self-determination of local governments; that is, allowing people to decide for their communities whether gas drilling should be permitted, through the voice of duly elected municipal officials. The state certainly has an interest in the proper recovery of mineral, oil and gas resources, but it has also accorded to local governments the right to determine, through zoning and planning mechanisms, the appropriate places and conditions of economic activity, from farming to retail to manufacturing.

While the legislature reviews its role in permitting home rule decisions in the arena of gas exploration, I take this opportunity to urge the department as well to recognize the prerogatives of local governments, the varied opinions on the merits and drawbacks of natural gas exploration, and provide for local ‘opt-out’ provisions in the new regulations. This could be as simple as the department not considering applications where local law prohibits drilling. Doing so empowers local governments to establish their own timetables, rules, criteria – or to decide that an industry is not compatible with their master plans – and to continuously evaluate the experiences of other communities within the state that may choose to approve drilling under enacted local laws.

I would urge you to include a ‘home rule’ provision within the new regulations.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can address this concern further.

With best wishes, I remain

Sincerely yours,


State Senator"