The Erie County Legislature on Thursday voted, 9-2 to, approve a local law banning hydraulic fracturing on county-owned property.
The law also prohibits introducing drilling waste into any county-owned facility such as a wastewater treatment plant and outlaws spreading of “fracking” byproducts on county roads.
About 50 proponents of the ban who attended the Legislature’s session wearing “no fracking” buttons and armed with signs supporting the law cheered after the vote.
“Today, what we’ve seen is that Erie County residents got what they expected and what they deserve – protection from the harmful impacts of fracking and fracking waste,” said Rita Yelda of Food & Water Watch and Western New York Drilling Defense.
Yelda, who was a driving force behind getting the Legislature to take on the issue of fracking in Erie County, called Thursday’s vote a huge statement, even though hydrofracking has yet to occur in New York State and the law does not affect property owned by private industry.
Despite passage of the law, some legislators charged that it was hastily drafted, ambiguous and, perhaps, even unnecessary. Legislator Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, and Legislator Edward Rath, R-Amherst, were the only two lawmakers to vote against the local law, even though all members of the Republican-aligned minority voiced qualms about approving it. Their efforts to send the legislation back to the Legislature’s Energy and Environment Committee for further deliberation failed.
“We don’t need another invalid law that’s going to open us up to litigation that’s going to cost the county possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees,” said Lorigo.
Meanwhile, Legislator Lynn Marinelli, D-Town of Tonawanda, who right before Thursday’s vote said she would support the fracking ban, questioned its necessity.
“I remain convinced that this local law was hastily processed, that it was created to make a political statement rather than making a county governing policy,” Marinelli said.
Marinelli noted that there are currently no energy companies seeking authority to perform hydraulic fracturing on county-owned property or in its parks, If there are any concerns about the prospect of fracking in any of the county’s parks, Marinelli said there is already an Erie County Parks Protection Law on the books and a Land Advisory Review Committee, which, through the county’s Department of Environment and Planning, is empowered to protect the county’s land interests.
“There’s where the redundancy comes,” she said. “It should have been cited in our own law. Too bad our counsel didn’t catch that.”
Meanwhile, some lawmakers, as well as legal counsel for the Legislature and County Attorney Michael Siragusa, disagreed over whether the local law constituted a ban or a moratorium on fracking, and whether a state environmental quality review was necessary before such a law could be passed.
Lorigo and Ronald Bennett, the counsel for the GOP-aligned minority members of the Legislature, said the law clearly constitutes a ban.
Jerome Schad, who wrote the local law, and Siragusa disagreed. Lorigo said the fact that they could not agree demonstrates the new law is ripe for legal challenge.
“National Fuel is going to challenge the law,” said Lorigo, who vowed to introduce more effective legislation on the issue of fracking once the new GOP-aligned majority takes control of the Legislature next month.
“We have four attorneys in the room who cannot agree on whether or not it’s a moratorium or a ban. That is the perfect example of litigation. When four lawyers don’t agree, a judge decides,” he added.
Rep. Chris Collins on Thursday took the Legislature to task for its vote.
“Today’s vote by the Erie County Legislature to irresponsibly ban fracking ensures that Western New York will continue to wallow in the status quo while jobs flee our region for pro-growth areas that embrace new technologies and common-sense job policies,” the former county executive said in a news release.
“By voting in favor of this ban today, county legislators have aligned themselves with President Obama and Governor Cuomo’s fringe, anti-business interests that have sabotaged New York’s economy and jobs for our citizens,” Collins added.