Public Law to Criminalize Hydrofracking Makes Headway in New York State
By Virginia Rasmussen
Sovereign People’s Action Network (SPAN) released to the press on January 17, 2013, news of the Woodstock Town Board’s adoption of a “Resolution in Support of Criminalizing Hydraulic Fracturing.” Woodstock is in Ulster County in the Hudson River Valley at the foothills of the Catskills in New York State. It is the first of what is hoped will be many local jurisdictions in New York to assert this action on behalf of self-governance and people’s authority over corporate activity.
The Resolution supports NY Public Law #1 which makes hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas and all related activities a crime under the state penal code. The law was conceived and drafted by SPAN, a local Ulster and Greene County group and FrackBusters NY, a statewide organization. Richard Grossman, co-founder of POCLAD, was central in framing and informing this initiative prior to his death in late 2011.
This action is being introduced in towns that passed a protective law zoning out the industrial activity of hydraulic fracturing, an authority granted local governments under NYS Home Rule law. But bans on hydraulic fracturing are no guarantee of true and lasting prohibitions, subject as they are to the vast discretionary authority of regulatory officials appointed by the governor or the executive office.
The move to build a statewide constituency on behalf of criminalization aims not only to make this technology a violation of law with commensurate penalties but to shift people’s relationship to corporations from one of subordination to one of defining and governing the corporate institutions we create. The law would criminalize fracking, frackers and all activities that support and surround the technology: waste disposal, water withdrawal, compressor operations, gas storage, pipeline installation, and more.
A decision to frack or not to frack in New York was postponed a number of times by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The latest delay, announced in March 2013, was based on the need for further study of health impacts.
This extended moratorium is being used by anti-fractivists to hone arguments, gather recruits and build the movement. There’s a hitch, of course. As in any citizen effort to protect communities and land from corporate threats, activists are divided against themselves, advocating vastly different strategies and a spectrum of goals.
There are more than 200 groups -- community, regional and state-based, as well as large national membership organizations, all working against fracking in ways that include pleas for an extended moratorium, demands for tougher regulations, calls for a statewide ban, and the effort toward criminalizing through Public Law # 1. It comes down to those who think there’s a way to frack safely versus those who believe safety is not to be found in this brutal extraction process.
The criminalization movement took heart from a recent decision by a Pennsylvania judge that signaled a crack in corporations’ vast collection of ill-gotten constitutional rights. The case pitted media organizations seeking access to nondisclosure agreements between a fracking corporation and property owners whose water supply was contaminated. The gas mining corporation claimed a “right to privacy.”
Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca of Washington County Court of Common Pleas, ruled that businesses do not have a right to privacy under the state’s constitution and are, in fact, not “persons” under that constitution. “If the framers had intended this section to shield corporations, limited-liability corporations, or partnerships, the Court presumes that they could and would have used those words. The plain meaning of ‘people’ is the living, breathing humans in this Commonwealth.”
Fracking corporations have denied the public’s right to know and assess the industry’s impacts by demanding that settlements remain secret. Behind this silencing hide the consequences of this industrial activity. They have repeatedly claimed that “there has not been a single example of water contamination from fracking,” an outright lie.
This judicial development is, well, a beautiful thing to behold!
Judge O’Dell stated in her decision, “it is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have ‘no spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ‘emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists… They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government because businesses are like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, prune at their pleasure and need.”
Such language will surely inspire all of us who seek real and lasting remedies for the relentless assaults of corporate power.
Buoyed by this “wind in our sails,” advocates for defining hydrofracking as criminal sent a strong letter to those major environmental organizations holding out for “safe fracking” through tough regulations and more community-friendly terms.
SPAN, FrackBusters and other grassroots groups, “the people in the New York trenches fighting fossil-fuel industrial crimes against our homes and communities, against people and Nature, … call on your organization to quickly, publicly and vocally adopt strategies” based on the premise that “fracking for fossil fuels must cease and desist...”
We in POCLAD hail these courageous citizens who know that the time for wresting illegitimate authority from corporations and engaging the struggle for real democracy is now! They have chosen one of the most pervasive corporate assaults of our time to take this case into their communities.
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