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One option for blocking corporations such as Cianbro from despoiling the State is use of the principle known as home rule: If communities determine that an industry poses a significant risk to common resources such as air and water, they can enact bans to keep that industry out, regardless of state and federal law, through changes in zoning regulations that prohibit high-impact industrial activity.
Enactment of such home-rule bans has been effectively applied in keeping oil and gas corporations from building hydraulic-fracking wells in New York State and wastewater-injection sites in Pennsylvania, for example.
In May, 2016, the small community of Grant Township, PA, passed a law that legalizes direct nonviolent action against corporations threatening it. When the Township asserted its democratic right to prohibit injection wells, the fracking corporation Pennsylvania General Energy Company sued. If a court does not protect the people's right to stop such a corporation from threatening their well-being, then no one in the community can be charged criminally for nonviolent direct action against it. See CELDF press release on this first-in-the-nation law protecting community rights and Law and Disorder's August 8, 2016, coverage of this legal precedent.
In New York, activist Helen Slottje led efforts empowering 172 communities to resist drilling in their jurisdictions even if New York's tentative moratorium on fracking were to be lifted (see the CEDC Web site). She was awarded the Goldman Prize for this work in 2014. See interviews at
Evidence of the power of this strategy comes from a ruling by New York's highest court on June 30, 2014, that municipalities can ban hydrofracking operations within their territorial boundaries. The state's Court of Appeals said the towns of Dryden and Middlefield can write zoning laws to ban specific heavy industries, including oil and gas production. See www.AlterNet.org
Gail Darrell of CELDF cautions, however, that
"Central to its ruling, the Court reaffirmed that the people of New York towns only have the power that the state chooses to give them. Thus, the Court explained that 'there is no dispute that the State Legislature has the right [to override local oil and gas laws] if it chooses to exercise it.'
The Court made clear that the New York State Legislature may legally nullify the extraction bans in Dryden, Middlefield - and any other town which chooses to follow them - at any time.
Absent from any of the discussion in this case, of course, was the right of the people in Dryden, Middlefield, and other communities to ban oil and gas extraction, even if the State forbids them from doing so.
Building an independent right to ban oil and gas extraction [that] is not dependent on state law or subject to arbitrary preemption is a much stronger base... and one that can be used to ban any projects or activities – ranging from fracking to sludge dumping to use of genetically modified organisms – which are deemed harmful by the community.
So, while the Dryden/Middlefield decisions are good markers on the way to local, community self-government, we must not lose sight of that ultimate goal... in which sustainability is ultimately rendered impossible without true local, community self-government insulated from either corporate or state control."