Judge overturns Binghamton gas drilling moratorium, Judge: Binghamton didn’t meet rules for moratorium

Judge overturns Binghamton gas drilling moratorium, Judge: Binghamton didn’t meet rules for moratorium by Steve Reilly, October 2, 2012, pressconnects
In an order signed Tuesday, state Supreme Court Justice Ferris D. Lebous said the local ordinance signed into law by Binghamton Mayor Matthew T. Ryan last December “fails to meet the criteria for a properly enacted moratorium” because the city could not prove drilling presents an impending crisis, or that there is a dire need to prevent it. … “The court recognizes that … there may be fierce opposition to gas exploration, extraction and storage by some members of the community,” Lebous wrote in his 15-page decision. “However, the city cannot invoke its police power solely as a means to satisfy certain segments of the community.” … However, Binghamton’s moratorium represented the first locally enacted prohibition in the Southern Tier, which is largely considered to be the geological sweet spot for natural gas drilling should the state approve its regulations for hydrofracking and begin issuing permits. The moratorium, which banned not only drilling but storage and other ancillary activities, was approved by Binghamton City Council on Dec. 21, following a fiery, three-hour public hearing and signed into law by Ryan the next day. City spokesman Andrew Block declined on Tuesday to discuss whether the city is planning to appeal the legal decision. “The city looks forward to reviewing today’s decision and continuing to do everything we can to ensure our community’s health, safety and prosperity,” he said. …

Three sentences of the 15-page decision bolster the legal underpinnings for “home rule,” the concept that municipalities have the ability to pass laws preventing drilling within their borders. “This is a great indication of home rule and the rights of municipalities to exercise zoning and land use powers to prohibit gas drilling,” Slottje said. “The judge couldn’t have been clearer on that.” Although Lebous said he found two other state Supreme Court decisions upholding anti-drilling zoning regulations in the towns of Middlefield and Dryden “well reasoned (and) well founded,” the statewide policy is ultimately expected to rest on appeals of those decisions that would be decided by a higher court. Helen Slottje noted that nearly all of the 100-plus drilling prohibitions have a similar legal framework to those in Middlefield and Dryden, which prohibit natural gas drilling through zoning rules. “Binghamton’s law is absolutely unique as compared to any of the other laws we’ve seen,” she said. Kamlet partially agreed, saying the decision was less about whether municipalities have the right to self-determination on drilling than the fact that Binghamton “didn’t play by the rules.”

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