Environmental Law

Anti-fracking lawyer wins international prize and $175,000

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A former commercial real estate lawyer-turned environmental activist who came up with a novel legal theory to slow and stymie the advancement of fracking in New York has won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, which includes a grant of $175,000.

Helen Slottje won the North America category for the international award, which annually goes to six individuals around the world who engage in “sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk,” the organization’s website says.

Slottje and her husband David Slottje have used the unusual “home rule” provision in the New York State Constitution, which grants significant power and autonomy to localities. Helen Slottje, formerly a commercial real estate lawyer with corporate law firm in Boston, came up with a novel legal theory in 2009 when she became concerned about the hazards of fracking for natural gas: to develop local bans on fracking, small town by small town.

“While there is nothing locals can do once they let the drillers in, they can slam the door in their faces,” Helen Slottje told the Albany Times-Union.

Two drilling industry challenges to the bans failed through the appellate level, and they are now are on the docket of the the New York Court of Appeal, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reported in August. More than 170 communities have either banned fracking or passed moratoria while awaiting decisions by the courts.

The Slottjes have lost some cases, too, such as a ruling (PDF) in January by a state trial court judge in the Supreme Court, County of Delaware. Judge John F. Lambert ruled that the Sidney Town Board failed to heed a protest petition with more than enough signatures that triggered a supermajority vote by the board, which passed the ban by simple majority.

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