Sunday, May 9, 2010

More Marcellus Madness

My little Sullivan County town seems to have caught the petrophilia virus from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The symptoms are acute myopia and – a new word to me – paralogia, a type of reasoning disorder.

While the rest of us have been riveted to the point of distraction by photos and stories on the latest legacies of fossil fuel mania in West Virginia and the Gulf of Mexico, these two paladins have been preparing the way for New Yorkers to experience these legacies first-hand. What a pair. Both appear to think they can play the role of David and tame the savage Goliath by being a welcoming host. History says otherwise.

The step my town is taking is to amend its zoning to provide that gas drilling will be a permitted use, subject to “special use” restrictions, throughout districts which comprise 90% of the town’s land area. I’m not sure yet why the town thinks this is a good idea and I’m going to assume for now that its intentions are defensive. But I am quite sure that substantially all those special use restrictions, setbacks being only one example, will fall within the ambit of the DEC’s regulatory scheme which, legal authorities agree, will therefore place them off-limits to local enforcement.

As everybody knows, the DEC, with its shrunken corps of inspectors, is not set up for much enforcement itself. So what is likely to happen? Well, a driller who has been invited in, subject to special use, may wish to knock out those special use restrictions by tying up the town in litigation – the towns’ greatest of all fears -- and with a pretty good cause of action, at that, meanwhile banking on inaction by the DEC. The invitation and the fray will logically attract more drillers, who, like water, have repeatedly displayed a tendency to run toward the places of least resistance, and the operations of those drillers will be similarly ungoverned. This is the way they behave; I’m not making this up. Our town, as Keith Lambert, the mayor of Rifle, Colorado predicted, will be overrun. He knows. His almost was. Dish, Texas, really was. Its mayor, Calvin Tillman, came to New York communities at his own expense to warn about the realities of drilling.

It is still hard for me to believe that a ‘smart’ state like New York can’t take its cues from the messes that cutting-edge fossil fuel extraction has caused elsewhere; that it fails to take note of the dawning awareness on the part of other governments and agencies  that the trade-offs are unreasonable; that it cares so little about its beautiful environment and its rural communities to leave them scrambling to protect themselves by whatever misguided means. Good intentions or not, my rural town, which sits on the upper Delaware River, could end up an industrial zone and a major polluter of the river for millions of downstream users.

I will be joining the local dialog and doing what I can to see that common sense prevails here. But it may take millions of protesters to see to it that common sense prevails in Albany.

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