Appalachian Basin

NRDC Bullies Try Intimidating Three Tiny Towns in DRBC Region

The River Reporter recently offered an astounding story of bullying by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that reveals how worried the latter is New York State may actually permit natural gas development and how desperately the group is trying to keep it far away from the homes and second homes of its wealthy benefactors.  It is the story of a non-profit corporation acting, not in the public interest, but, rather, to further the personal interests of its leadership through intimidation of local officials.

The NRDC, the River Reporter says, has filed extensive Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests with three towns that just happen to be located in the northern region of the Delaware River basin where there’s actually thought to be economically recoverable natural gas.  These three communities recently enacted some variation of the pro-gas resolution recommended by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (JLCNY).  They are; the Town of Sanford in Broome County and the Towns of Delaware and Fremont in Sullivan County.  These are all current or former clients of mine, which is why I took particular notice of this story, although I’ve never discussed the JLCNY resolution with any of them.

Putting aside the details of the FOIL request for the moment, there are some very puzzling aspects to it.  First, why would an organization of the size and scope of the NRDC want to pick on three tiny communities along the upper reaches of the Delaware River.  It’s like sending in Attila the Hun to steal the lunch money from a kindergartener.  Secondly, why these three particular towns?  Dozens of communities across upstate New York State have done exactly the same thing.  Why weren’t they all included or a more representative sample used?  Finally, what could possibly be wrong with the JLCNY recommending town measures in the same manner as the Park Foundation funded Community Environmental Defense Council has done with moratoriums and the like?  The answers to these questions all point to a charitable organization being run for the benefit of its leadership, as opposed to its stated public purpose.

The NRDC, like the Community Environmental Defense Council, gets funding from the Park Foundation, of course, but it’s a small contribution compared to the former’s gargantuan budget.  The Park Foundation has given NRDC over $1.5 million since 2000, but only $85,000 so far this year, while the NRDC spent over $105 million in 2011 and held net assets of over $198 million, having grown the latter by about $15 million in just one year.  Obviously, $85,000 is more than pocket change and commands some respect, but it’s hard to believe it would be enough to motivate the NRDC to go chasing after three little towns about a resolution on Park’s behalf.

Interestingly, it seems the NRDC has decided to get directly involved in the battle at the town level for some reason.  It has recently announced the launch of a “Community Fracking Defense Project” that will “provide legal and policy assistance to towns and local governments seeking added control or protections from hydraulic fracturing in their communities.” It further says it will be:

  • Assisting in drafting local laws and land use plans that control the extent of fracking within their borders and/or limit the harmful effects of fracking.
  • Working to re-assert communities’ rights to protect themselves under state law.
  • Defending relevant zoning provisions and other local laws that are challenged in court.

Does this mean the NRDC recognizes the Slottje slapstick approach is doomed to failure and that bigger guns are needed?  It’s hard to know, but the recent decision by Judge Lebous to throw out the basis for all moratoriums being enacted in New York at the moment, certainly couldn’t be encouraging for that strategy.  What we do know from this news release is this; NRDC proposes to do precisely what it wants to investigate the JLCNY for doing, attempting to influence the debate at the local level.  Here’s some of what the NRDC requests from the Town of Fremont, for example, which is similar to the others:

Records or communications exchanged between the Town and the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York (“JLCNY”) or any member thereof; or between the Town and organizations representing oil and natural gas interests; or between the Town and any businesses engaged in the extraction, processing, storage, or transportation of oil or natural gas; or between the Town and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”); or between the Town and the Office of the Governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, relating to:

1. The July 11, 2012 Town Board resolution relating to natural gas drilling in the Town of Fremont;
2. The sale or leasing of Town of Fremont land for the extraction, production, storage, or transportation of natural gas;
3. The zoning or re-zoning of Town of Fremont land for the extraction, production, storage, or transportation of natural gas;
4. Potential natural gas extraction, production, storage, or transportation within the Town of Fremont generally; and
5. The current statewide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in New York.

The NRDC is fully entitled to this information.  Nevertheless, the irony of one day saying how your organization is going to assist in “drafting local laws and land use plans that control the extent of fracking” and the next day trying to intimidate towns with FOIL requests related to the activities of a pro-gas JLCNY doing the same thing seems lost on the humorless souls who always seem to lead these efforts.

Also, let there be no doubts this is an attempt at intimidation.  The three resolutions were given to the River Reporter for a reason – to impress upon local officials who dare to say they want natural gas development, that they are risking the wrath of very powerful and well-funded people who have “a staff of more than 350 lawyers, scientists, economists, and policy experts” at their beck and call.  The Towns of Delaware, Fremont and Sanford budgets compared to the NRDC’s are illustrated below:


Town Budgets Compared to NRDC – 2010/11


There’s still more to story, though, for these three towns obviously weren’t chosen at random.  Some 59 communities, at a minimum, have enacted pro-gas resolutions as the following map illustrates:

Pro-Gas Resolutions Map from JLCNY

The Towns of Delaware, Fremont and Sanford are all viable candidates for natural gas development in the upper portion of the Delaware River basin where friends and officers of  NRDC hold thousands of acres of land surrounded by others thousands of acres they’d like to control.  The NRDC leadership played critical roles in establishing the Open Space Institute, the Open Space Conservancy, the Catskill Mountainkeeper and several other organizations that seek to control as much land as possible in the vicinity of their own properties.  NRDC founder John H. Adams lives there, after all.  Is this what’s it’s all about?  We can’t know for sure, but we can recognize bullying when we see it.


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