Democracy is dangerous
May 5, 2011 —
The town board of the Town of Delaware, NY recently declined to pass a resolution that would have advocated for a key home-rule principle. Specifically, the resolution would have supported S3472 and A3245, New York State Senate and Assembly bills respectively, that would have reaffirmed the rights of municipalities to control land use within their own borders. Despite the fact that New York is a home-rule state, these rights could use some clarification, due to a clause in section 23-0303 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) that some construe as superseding local rights with regard to the siting of oil and gas wells.
During the discussion, Noel van Swol, president of the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association (and a resident of Fremont, by the way, not Delaware), argued against the resolution. He said that, though the bills in question may look like a support of freedom, they are really Trojan horses for those who would like to ban drilling entirely, and thus should be rejected.
Let’s look at the actual language of A3245 (the two bills are essentially the same). It would amend the controversial section of environmental law to add: “Nothing in this title shall be construed to prevent any local government from (A) Enacting or enforcing local laws or ordinances of general applicability except that such local laws shall not expressly regulate the oil, gas and solution mining industries regulated by state statute, regulation, or permit; or (B) enacting or enforcing local zoning ordinances or laws which determine permissible uses in zoning districts.”
This is the danger van Swol is warning us against. We are hard put to understand why. His charge that the legislation would result in a “hodgepodge” of legislation is unpersuasive: yes, there would be different laws in different towns, depending on what the people living there wanted. That’s what happens when you give people control of their own destiny rather than imposing mandates from a centralized authority. As for the charge that the town will be inundated with law suits if it tries to get in the way of drilling: nonsense. That’s the main point of changing the law: so that municipalities can go about their business without fear of suits. The only remaining argument is the fear that if towns could make up and enforce their own zoning with regard to gas drilling, some of them might not do it the way van Swol and his supporters want them to.