October 18, 2011

Who invited Goliath?

There were a lot of strange Republican claims in the recent Innovation Trail piece at WSKG, but I think the one that really hit it out of the park was this:

Schickel is critical of town Democrats for putting Dryden out ahead of the push to ban fracking.

"They essentially put a target on their backs, saying sue us first," he says.

That last word - first - is what makes this complete and utter nonsense. The legal arguments around the ban are complicated because this isn't settled law, and I think everyone involved has agreed that settling this will mean a journey that starts at the local State Supreme Court and winds its way up to New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals. (Though possibly the legislature could intervene.)

Dryden was not, however, the first town to pass a ban. Bans and moratoria have been going up across the state. Dryden is, for example, number 22 on this list.

So how did we end up with the target on our backs?

Well, if you visit the Dryden Safe Energy Coalition web page, the first thing you'll see is a piece called "Leaders Attend No Ban Conference":

Several municipalities in New York State have adopted bans on energy development, including the City of Buffalo, and the towns of Dryden, Ithaca, Ulysses, and Middlefield.

In response, about sixty leaders came together on August 22 at a Dryden Safe Energy Coalition (DSEC) sponsored, by invitation only, meeting in Binghamton to discuss legal strategies for pushing back against, and legally combating, local ordinances banning safe, regulated, energy development and taking landowner property unjustly without compensation. Key speaker at the conference was noted New York and Pennsylvania oil and gas attorney and geologist Michael P. Joy.

Conference participants attending included an array of leaders from local, regional, and statewide landowner coalitions throughout upstate New York as well as leaders of farm and industry groups such as the Farm Bureau, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York (IOGA), Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and Energy in Depth. DSEC moderator Henry S. Kramer said, "We are bringing together landowners, farmers, and industry in common cause to overturn bans and unpaid takings."

"We have knowledge that a test case challenging a ban is already getting underway in State Supreme Court that could set definitive precedent for New York State...."

Henry Kramer said from the outset that a ban would bring a suit, and then, guess what? He started a group that sponsored an "invitation-only" meeting of local gas industry supporters and gas industry legal firepower. Somehow, out of that meeting, a "test case" emerged, in - guess where? Dryden.

There are several other fun pieces to the "test case". It was filed just as election season was getting started, giving the Republicans who were, at least then, clear opponents of the ban, maximum ammunition. It was filed in a town that's definitely possible for Republicans to capture - why bother with Ulysses or Ithaca?

It's not just that the DSEC leadership overlaps the Dryden Republican Committee substantially - it's that the "super lawyer" running the case can't seem to help himself telling the story of their hopes in the lawsuit. He dodges a little at the beginning (38:00), but then gives it up, entirely voluntarily, later in the interview:

ARBETTER: There are other communities in New York State that are also going down this Dryden route of wanting to insulate themselves from fracking. Why did you pick Dryden?

WEST: Well, we picked Dryden because our client, Anschutz Exploration Corporation, has 22,200 acres under lease in the Town...

WEST: [47:25] ...we annexed the lease to our litigation papers, but I guess we'll find out in November, right?

ARBETTER: Right, November 4th.

WEST: No, no, I think we're going to find out actually the second Tuesday of November, the first Tuesday, whatever it is - Election Day. Because that's when the Town Board and Town Supervisor are up for election. I understand three of the seats are up for election.

ARBETTER: Oh, I see.

WEST: So we'll find out whether a majority of people in the Town are in favor of drilling, or not, because those elections are going to decide the fate of that issue.

ARBETTER: Are you - Is the industry getting involved in this local race?

WEST: No, we're just watching it. We've seen this - we've seen it in other contexts, I've seen it in the context of landfills and all where you see town boards flip flop over time for against a particular facility or particular type of activity.

You know, this really doesn't even begin to add up to the Town Board painting a target on Dryden. It adds up to a local group opposed to the ban that encouraged industry to come sue Dryden in particular in the hope that they could flip the ban and the election.

Schickel spun this one way too hard.

Posted by simon at October 18, 2011 7:48 PM in , ,
Note on photos