NRDC Launches Community Fracking Defense Project

I am very excited to be able to announce the official launch today of NRDC’s new Community Fracking Defense Project.

For too long, communities around the country have had little defense against the oil and gas companies that sweep into their neighborhoods and start fracking—a natural gas extraction technique linked to a range of air and water pollution issues across the country —without regard for the impact it has on the people who live there.  If a city or town decides it doesn’t want fracking, or wants to restrict it, their voice should be heard and respected.  The Community Fracking Defense Project is intended to start giving communities the opportunity to do so.

The new project, which is launching in five states—New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and North Carolina—will provide assistance to towns and other local governments that want added control over the siting of and/or protections against the harms of fracking in their communities.

For example, NRDC legal and policy staff, together with local partners, will:

  • Assist in drafting local laws and land use plans that control the extent of fracking within their borders and/or limit the harmful effects of fracking.
  • Work to re-assert communities’ rights to protect themselves under state law.
  • Defend relevant zoning provisions and other local laws that are challenged in court.

The practical and legal realities surrounding gas development in these initial five states are clearly quite distinct.  As the project gets off the ground, NRDC will be working with our local partners to evaluate the lay of the land and identify the opportunities that are most promising, effective, and potentially precedential in each of these states.

For example, in three of these states where fracking is not yet widely practiced, there is an opportunity for communities to arm themselves with appropriate protections before serious community impacts occur.

In New York, a de facto moratorium remains in place while the state continues to evaluate the environmental – and hopefully the health – impacts of proposed new fracking.  And the courts have thus far supported broad authority for municipalities to protect themselves against potential fracking, including through local bans on the practice.

In Illinois and North Carolina fracking is also still prospective (albeit it appears much more imminent in the former), providing a chance for communities to get ahead of the fracking rush.

On the other hand, in Pennsylvania, the impacts of rampant fracking are already being experienced and are well-known, and the issue of community authority over fracking is now hotly contested.  Just yesterday, NRDC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of a number of municipalities in support of a lower court decision striking down portions of a recently enacted Pennsylvania law that severely limited the ability of local governments to use their zoning powers to control where fracking occurs.

Ohio, too, is also already experiencing the impacts of fracking, much of it in the form of an influx of fracking wastes from other states.

In these two states, we will be working to establish and secure communities’ power to protect themselves against fracking’s harmful effects and then to help those communities exercise that power.

Decisions over land use and community character have long been the province of local governments in the United States.  Over three quarters of a century ago, our Supreme Court held that communities have the right to enact local laws to protect “public health, safety, morals, and general welfare.”  It is hard to imagine a situation where this right would be more critical than with fracking—an inherently heavy industrial, community character-altering activity.  NRDC is proud to be initiating the Community Fracking Defense Project in an effort to protect and defend communities and their important land use rights.

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