Yesterday, the New York Court of Appeals–New York’s highest court–decided an important land use case involving town-wide restrictions prohibiting hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking. The case has been widely reported in the media, but I think it is worth reading the actual decision because it contains a good discussion of preemption in the context of a municipality’s home rule authority to regulate land uses. You may read it here: Matter of Wallach v. Town of Dryden (2014 NY Slip Op 04875).
In upholding the home rule authority to prohibit hydrofracking, the Court held:
At the heart of these cases lies the relationship between the State and its local government subdivisions, and their respective exercise of legislative power. These appeals are not about whether hydrofracking is beneficial or detrimental to the economy, environment or energy needs of New York, and we pass no judgment on its merits. These are major policy questions for the coordinate branches of government to resolve. The discrete issue before us, and the only one we resolve today, is whether the State Legislature eliminated the home rule capacity of municipalities to pass zoning laws that exclude oil, gas and hydrofracking activities in order to preserve the existing character of their communities. There is no dispute that the State [*12]Legislature has this right if it chooses to exercise it. But in light of ECL 23-0303 (2)’s plain language, its place within the OGSML’s framework and the legislative background, we cannot say that the supersession clause — added long before the current debate over high-volume hydrofracking and horizontal drilling ignited — evinces a clear expression of preemptive intent. The zoning laws of Dryden and Middlefield are therefore valid.
Matter of Wallach, 2014 NY Slip Op 04875 at *11-12 (2014).