This blog chronicles and analyzes developments in the Upper Delaware Valley, with an emphasis on public affairs, politics and what people are doing to make this a better place. You can find news here as well as commentary - but don't expect neutrality. The award-winning editorial writer for The River Reporter from 2004 to 2012, I am an advocate for sustainability, self-sufficient economic growth vs. globalization and protecting the environment on which our health, prosperity and quality of life depend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Some grains as small as a mustard seed

Following the recent sturm und drang in the Town of Delaware surrounding the Roeder Resolution and its aftermath, two resolutions passed by the council tonight at the regular town meeting could present the seeds of a very different direction for the town.

First was a resolution that the town should sign the Climate Smart Community Pledge, essentially a pledge to join in Sullivan County’s Climate Action Plan initiative to reduce carbon emissions by all sectors, adopt sustainable practices and policies—and just incidentally create jobs and economic growth centered around this transformation. Delaware joined the towns of Tusten, Highland and Lumberland in signing the pledge. The town’s next step will be to collect baseline information about its current carbon emissions. After that, it can start developing particular projects, eligible for funding, that can carry forward the plan’s goals.

Second was a resolution to propose Local Law #3, the Delaware version of the Local Road Use and Preservation Law created by the Sullivan County Multi-Municipal Taskforce (MMTF). The law spells out a system to make sure that when new, heavy industrial users come into the area, they, not taxpayers, pay for the damage they inflict on town roads—while screening out existing, traditional traffic by agricultural, lumbering and construction vehicles and the like.

Admittedly, you can’t make too much of either of these at this point. As noted both by Supervisor Ed Sykes and by Michael Chojnicki, who made the request that the council act on the pledge tonight, it does not actually force anybody to do anything. If, once specific emissions-reducing projects have been proposed, the council elects to vote every one of them down, it can still do so.

And the road use law has only been proposed, not voted on—indeed, the hearing has yet to be held. Moreover, in the past year or so, the work of the MMTF has in fact run into opposition in the county from several angles. Some see it as a tacit concession that natural gas drilling activity will be coming into our area, coupled with a mistaken implication that the steps taken by the law adequately mitigate the damage of that activity. (I find these criticisms misguided; see http://www.riverreporter.com/editorial/16/2011/07/12/issue-hand .)  On the other side are people like town council candidate Ned Lang in Tusten, who argues that the law is an unreasonable interference with business activities. We’ll have to wait until the hearing to see if such opposition raises its head in Delaware.

But what is interesting to note for now is that both resolutions passed without dissent either on the council or from the audience, and that means one very important thing: right now, despite all the recent contention, there are a few issues on which people on both sides of the gas drilling rift in the Town of Delaware can find common ground. With regard to the pledge, the common ground is that good stewardship of the environment may be possible to pursue at the same time as economic renewal. With regard to the road use law, it is that it should not be the obligation of small rural households to bankroll industrial corporations’ usage of the taxpayers’ common resources. 

From these small beginnings, perhaps some way forward can be found to a future in which green energy and conservation initiatives, not extractive industries, provide the basis of economic vitality, and town government recognizes its obligation to protect all the common resources of the town—including air and water, not just roads. Pollyanna stuff at the moment, certainly. But the climate plan and road law ought at least provide a place where people can begin to talk about it.

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