By Jim Hightower
It’s one thing for Big Oil to bust into our communities, groundwater, and economic well-being with the hydraulic fracturing natural gas boom. Now, in addition to poisoning the environment, this fracking fad is busting the free speech rights of locals who dare to speak out against it.
Welcome to Sanford, New York. It’s a pleasant place of 2,800 citizens on the New York-Pennsylvania border. Unfortunately, the pleasantness has been interrupted by a major squabble over whether or not to allow big companies to extract natural gas by fracturing the huge Marcellus Shale formation that underlies the region.
Fracking is already rampant in Pennsylvania, but New York imposed a moratorium on the dangerous practice to assess the health and safety issues involved.
However, as OnEarth magazine reports, Sanford’s town board is eager to allow oil and gas outfits to frack away. The board even leased land to one corporation that wants to drill inside the town. Last fall, Sanford officials went further, imperiously imposing a gag order on their own citizens. It seems that opponents of the profiteering frack rush were using the board’s public comment session to … well, to comment publicly.
Irritated, the board decreed that any topic could be discussed at its meetings — except fracking.
The town leveled this autocratic restriction on people’s democratic rights by saying that the ongoing discussion on fracking got in the way of other board business. But, gosh, that’s the way it is in a democracy. The people themselves can dare to set the agenda by insisting that our local leaders discuss the big issues that matter most to our families and communities.
The gagged townspeople have now sued the Sanford board for fracking their free speech rights and making a mockery of democracy. For more information, contact Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy: www.catskillcitizens.org.
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown.