A statewide group of landowners says it plans to sue New York in mid-February if the Department of Environmental Conservation doesn’t lay out a “reasonable” timeline to complete its review of hydraulic fracturing.
In a newsletter sent to its members late Thursday, Joint Landowners Coalition of New York President Dan Fitzsimmons said the group will file its long-awaited lawsuit on Feb. 14 in hopes of forcing the DEC to complete its lengthy environmental review of fracking, known as the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement or SGEIS.
The coalition is set to send a letter to the DEC on Friday, demanding a timeline for a decision on high-volume fracking by Feb. 13 and promising a suit if the demand isn’t met. By filing in mid-February, the landowners’ attorneys are hoping to essentially have it linked with a similar but separate legal challenge by the bankruptcy trustee of Norse Energy, the now-defunct subsidiary of a Norwegian oil-and-gas company.
“The JLCNY’s Article 78 Petition to compel the State to complete the SGEIS is almost ready to be filed,” Fitzsimmons wrote. “We plan to commence the action on February 14, 2014 making it returnable before the Court with the Norse Petition on March 7, 2014.”
The Binghamton-based landowners group, which has been raising funds for the lawsuit over the past several months, is getting a boost from the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a Colorado-based non-profit that has provided legal support in a number of conservative-leaning lawsuits across the country. In the newsletter, Fitzsimmons said the foundation reached out to the group in November to offer up its legal team.
In a draft of the lawsuit made public last year, the Joint Landowners Coalition laid out its case for a federal “takings” case, which argued the state’s de facto moratorium on large-scale fracking was an unconstitutional seizure of their land rights. But the landowners’ initial suit will be an “Article 78” proceeding, which is a portion of New York law used to challenge an act by a state agency or entity on an expedited basis.
The Norse lawsuit was filed last month and came after its attorney, Albany-based oil-and-gas lawyer Tom West, sent a similar demand letter to the DEC two weeks earlier. The state and Norse’s trustee are due in court in March.
Earlier this week, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens said his agency is “extremely unlikely” to issue any high-volume fracking permits before April 2015. The state first put the technique on hold in July 2008.
UPDATED: Here’s the demand letter sent to Martens Friday: