Albany Common Council Reintroduces Fracking Ban Bill with Veto-Proof Majority
Following New York State Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey's landmark decision in Dryden, NY that re-affirmed local municipalities' right to prohibit natural gas extraction, Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro announced the re-introduction of the Albany fracking ban bill at a press conference on Feb. 24. The bill passed last year but was vetoed by Mayor Gerald D. Jennings. Calsolaro applauded the court decision and called for local municipalities’ rights to remain intact.
"Judge Rumsey's decision in the Town of Dryden case regarding the Town's legal right to use zoning to prohibit hydrofracking is a reaffirmation of a municipality's power to regulate land use within its boundaries. This constitutionally-granted power of local governments recognizes that land use decisions affecting residents of a specific municipality should be left to the elected officials of that municipality, and not have land use regulations forced upon them by bureaucrats who do not live in the community. With Judge Rumsey's well-researched and logical ruling, we are hopeful that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's yet-to-be-finalized natural gas drilling regulations will respect the land use decisions made by individual local municipal governments."
The court decision was influential with the Common Council, now yielding a veto-proof majority of 10 votes for the fracking ban bill. Councilman Jim Sano, who abstained last year over concerns about the then-ongoing Dryden lawsuit, announced his support of the ban.
“Given this recent court decision, my reservations of the City of Albany banning hydrofracking have been removed. I abstained from the original vote and stated at that time I was fearful that the City potentially would have to pay damages if the decision in this court case was favorable for the plaintiffs. I further said, my decision on the matter could not be final until this court case was resolved, the case has been resolved, the ban was upheld, therefore any reservations I had in regards to this legislation have been satisfied.”
With news that the DEC is rushing through more than 61,000 public comments on fracking, Albany is one of many municipalities renewing efforts to ban fracking following the Judge Rumsey’s decision. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Governor Cuomo said that it was up to the courts if municipalities have the right to ban fracking. “I believe it’s up to the courts,” Cuomo said. “And if the courts say they have that right, they have the right.”
Councilmembers Anton Konev and Leah Golby also spoke at today's press conference in support of the Albany fracking ban. Councilman Konev stated, "The Courts reaffirmed what I have been saying all along—we have a responsibility to protect health and welfare of citizens within our city and not give up that power to the state in hopes for the best and now court has ruled that localities indeed could ban hydrofracking within their boundaries. This is a major victory and I am glad to hear that now it looks like we have veto-proof majority in the Council supporting this ban."
The Albany fracking ban re-introduction follows an announcement earlier this week by El Paso Corp—owner of the country's largest natural gas pipeline system—of their intent to build a new 36-inch diameter natural gas pipeline from northeast Pennsylvania to Albany. The proposed pipeline would open the land along and near it to fracking, including the Utica Shale that lies underneath and surrounding Albany.
Dozens of Albany residents and business owners were at the press conference to call on the rest of the Common Council and Mayor Jennings to act on the will and best interests of Albany residents and to support the Albany fracking ban. Last year, an unprecedented number of residents and more than 70 local businesses called on the city of Albany to ban fracking.
John Armstrong, an organizer with Frack Action, said, “We applaud Councilman Calsolaro’s leadership, Councilman Jim Sano and the rest of the Common Council in supporting the Albany fracking ban. We hope that Albany passes the legislation switfly and joins most other major cities including Buffalo and Syracuse in banning fracking to protect its residents. The gas industry has set in motion plans to build the infrastructure that would open Albany and the surrounding area for drilling in the Utica Shale, threatening Albany residents with water contamination, catastrophic air pollution and disasters like we see every week in Pennsylvania.”
Daniel Morrissey, an organizer with Capital District Against Fracking, stated, "Capital District Against Fracking implores Mayor Jennings to stand up to the gas industry alongside an overwhelming majority of the Albany Common Council as they revisit legislation to zone fracking and related industrial processes out of Albany."
County Legislator Higgins also spoke at the press conference and warned of the dangers of fracking, as well as to push his legislation for a ban on fracking in Albany county. Legislator Higgins said, "Hydrofracking is an unproven and environmentally unsound practice. The county has no business being in the fracking business and hopefully soon we will take action to ensure it never will be when my county ban is passed."
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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