An environmental group has filed a lawsuit against officials in the western New York town of Sanford for violating free speech rights after it enacted a ban against discussing “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy filed suit against the town earlier this week, alleging that residents “have been silenced by their Town Board from speaking about natural gas development at Town Board meetings,” according to the lawsuit.
On Sept. 11 of last year, the town passed a resolution that banned discussion on fracking—a contentious topic that has generated much public interest and has sparked fear.
Opponents, including actor Mark Ruffalo and singer Yoko Ono, said that fracking—a process that involves injecting millions of gallons of chemically treated water to free trapped gases—would pose a threat to the environment. Proponents said that it would generate a much-needed economic boon to towns that sit atop the natural gas-rich Marcellus Shale, which is located in New York and Pennsylvania.
When passing the resolution, the board said that there had already been hours of public discussion on fracking, with both opponents and proponents giving arguments.
“People who were against fracking had, in the minds of the town board, monopolized discussion in the public participation portion of prior meetings to the extent that very little other business could be accomplished,” Herbert Kline, an attorney who represents the town of Sanford, told The Associated Press.
But the NRDC said that the resolution was designed to silence dissenting voices.
Kate Sinding, attorney with the NRDC, accused the town board of “having aggressively favored fracking in Sanford and statewide,” on her NRDC blog. She added, “Sanford’s town board has called on the state three times to begin fracking—and to frack Sanford.”
“When residents turned out in droves to open public town board meetings in response to the board’s actions, the board decided it had had enough and shut down the debate,” Sinding wrote.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to decide soon on whether or not to lift a nearly five-year-old moratorium on fracking in the state. The governor is currently reviewing a high-volume fracking program.
A number of landowners have pressed their towns to pass resolutions supporting fracking, and Sanford is no different; it has passed several resolutions that favor gas drilling, according to AP.
Mike Musante, an opponent of fracking in Sanford, said that the issue has proved to be “extremely divisive.”
“There are some well-placed families, including our town supervisor, who have signed leases with signing bonuses in the millions of dollars,” he told AP. “And there are smaller landowners who are opposed.”
The lawsuit aims to remove the fracking discussion ban during Sanford town board meetings.
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