Under legal pressure from anti-fracking groups, the Town of Sanford has repealed a law that prohibits people from publically discussing fracking at town meetings.
With the repeal, officials from The Natural Resources Defense Council announced this week they are dropping their case against the town.
In September, members of the Sanford Town Board passed a resolution banning the discussion of fracking during the public comment period at town meetings. The NRDC filed the lawsuit in February with the Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy in the U.S. Court of the Northern District of New York. The Town of Sanford resolution is unconstitutional, according to the complaint, because it bans speech at public meetings “about a matter of substantial public interest that has generated significant political activity.”
Several of the board members have direct financial stakes in the outcome of fracking and, be extension, policy being influenced in town halls on the controversial practice of extracting gas from bedrock using high volumes of undisclosed pressurized chemical solutions. Town Supervisor Dewey Decker is among those who signed a lease with XTO Energy to produce gas from the Marcellus Shale under his land. Decker leads a coalition of farmers who negotiated a deal with XTO Energy in 2008 to lease 50,000 acres for $110 million plus 13.5 percent royalties. Since then, development has been on hold pending a policy review on the impacts of shale gas development by state health and environmental officials
Sanford Town board meetings were becoming a draw for outspoken activists and residents opposed to fracking. Acting in the capacity of Town Supervisor, Decker sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo last fall urging the state to expedite the pending health and environmental policy review, and complaining that a delay was “only empowering opponents.” Prior to that, the board passed a resolution urging the state to move forward, and rejecting calls for the town to ban fracking.
Decker was out plowing his fields today and unavailable. He doesn’t carry a cell phone and he takes his lunch with him, his wife Dawn told me. I will update this post after I reach him.
“This is a vindication of the right to free speech,” NRDC attorney Kate Sinding said in a statement. “And it sends a message to communities everywhere. As Americans, we have the right to speak up when we feel threatened. And it is our government’s responsibility to listen.”
Status report: In my last post a stated my “next post” would be about injections wells in Ohio. To finish that, I’m waiting for some records from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which I expect by early next week.