An Open Letter to the Community from Members of RDAF (Rochester Defense Against Fracking)

We are writing in response to the information we have received from our town board and from other neighboring towns. We are very happy to hear that the towns of Rochester, New Paltz, Marbletown and others are working to pass zoning bans to prohibit fracking in our towns. We appreciate the efforts being made to protect us all and will be present at a public hearing on June 7 at 7pm to discuss the proposed
Town of Rochester Local Law #2 of 2012 regarding “Exploration for or Extraction of Natural Gas and/or Petroleum” as presented at the Town Board meeting on May 3rd.

We know that home rule is currently recognized in NY State, so it is urgent to pass these laws now. We also urge the passing of a community bill of rights ordinance, in addition to a zoning ban, to provide greater protection. We have learned that the zoning bans passed in the towns of Dryden and Middlefield are being appealed by the gas
corporations, despite the appeal time having expired.

Lawyers from the CELDF (Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund), who are experienced on the subject of community rights, zoning bans and rights-based ordinances, recommend strongly that these laws should not be combined but should be passed side by side. See source:

For those towns that have already passed a zoning ban, it is easy to later amend it to reference a separate community bill of rights ordinance. The strongest protection is to have the two laws in place, each referring to the other and standing on their own merits. This makes it much more difficult for the gas companies to circumvent these

Both zoning bans and community bill of rights ordinances attempt to protect our towns from fracking; however there are vast differences between them and both are needed.

The zoning ban assumes that our rights are conferred upon us by the State, which can revoke these rights at any point. In Pennsylvania, the Attorney General is suing the people who elected him, on behalf of the corporations. The PA State Legislature has stripped the rights of its citizens to establish home rule in their state. In today’s climate
of the “Citizens United” Supreme Court ruling we would be foolish to trust that the State of NY will protect individuals or local towns over corporations or act in our best interest.

In the event that the State of NY does uphold home rule, corporations can still sue under the “takings” clause for lost profit.

A zoning ban merely says that a particular industrial practice cannot be performed in a community, but does not say why. The community bill of rights ordinance is stronger in that it says that our rights are inalienable, cannot be given to us or taken from us by the Federal or State government or any corporation. In attaching these two laws side
by side, we are creating the strongest possible protection, asserting our rights and protecting not only ourselves and our environment, but also protecting and practicing democracy.

If a zoning ban is overturned due to the State not recognizing home rule, the community bill of rights ordinance still stands. This is why the two laws need to be separate. This also sends the clearest message to not only the gas and oil companies, but sets an example of courage to surrounding towns to protect themselves in the same way.    Since we know that contaminated fracking water migrates for hundreds of miles, we must continue to work with other communities for a statewide ban on fracking, as the State of Vermont has done. Otherwise, a neighboring town that does not ban fracking, can pollute our drinking aquifers with toxic water. We should not be lulled into complacency by thinking that just passing local laws will protect our towns.

Hydrofracking amounts to a gas company seizing control of a community, for its own profits.  The arguments of the gas companies that:  1. We need this gas and therefore it is a National Security issue; 2. natural gas is a bridge fuel;  3. it is safe; and 4. that local jobs will be created - are false.  Each day there is increasing evidence that these corporate ads are completely misleading.  The community bill of rights ordinance addresses the above four points and the zoning ban does not.  As well, it addresses our right to a sustainable future.

Therefore, we as informed, concerned citizens, believe it is our best line of defense to pass, as soon as possible, both zoning bans and community bill of rights ordinances, side by side, as the strongest protection we can provide to ourselves, our environment and the future of our communities.

We believe it is our right and responsibility to govern ourselves at the local level of government and also advocate for State, National and World-wide bans against fracking.

Respectfully submitted,

Toby Stover and Rio Stover and The Members of RDAF (Rochester Defense Against Fracking)