No, you crazy members of the town board of Sanford, N.Y. No, you cannot ban people from asking you to ban fracking during town board meetings.
The board members grew weary of constantly hearing from constituents on the controversial practice of hydrofracking for natural gas. Fracking is not currently allowed in New York, but if that changes, residents of the town, which is near the border of the heavily fracked state of Pennsylvania, fear that their community would be one of the first fracked and their water supply one of the first poisoned.
So the board passed a law in September that banned anybody from mentioning the issue during public comment periods at its meetings. Instead, the board members suggested that fracking opponents put their concerns in writing to the town clerk for review.
Which was obviously illegal. After the Natural Resources Defense Council and Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to reverse what had been dubbed a “gag order,” the town board relented. It voted last week to rescind the obviously illegal order.
With its action, the Town Board has rightly recognized the validity of residents’ concerns about this controversial heavy industrial activity moving into their backyards, and the need for their local representatives to hear them. This is especially important in light of the board’s history of support for fracking. This is a vindication of the right to free speech. And it sends a message to communities everywhere. As Americans, we have the right to speak up when we feel threatened. And it is our government’s responsibility to listen.