Judge Delays Review of Lawsuit Against Army Corps and Delaware River Basin Commission Over Proposed Gas Regulations

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   September 25, 2012
Contact:   Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, P: 215.369.1188 x 102
Cinda Waldbuesser, National Parks Conservation Association, P: 215.327.2529
Tina Posterli, Hudson Riverkeeper, P: 914.478.4501 x 239


Judge Delays Review of Lawsuit Against Army Corps and Delaware River Basin Commission Over Proposed Gas Regulations

Coalition disappointed by further court delays that jeopardize local communities, the environment and our national parks.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York ruled that a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is not ready for judicial review. The lawsuit was filed on August 3, 2011 by a coalition including the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Hudson Riverkeeper and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network against the Corps and the DRBC for their failure to comply with federal law by proposing gas drilling regulations without first conducting a full environmental review as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The coalition is represented by attorneys from each organization and the Columbia Environmental Law Clinic. 

“While we are disappointed that the court has decided for now not to rule on the merits of our case, we remain fully committed to ensuring our national parks on the Delaware River are protected for our children and grandchildren to enjoy,” said Cinda Waldbuesser, Pennsylvania Senior Program Manager for NPCA.  “We will continue to urge the DRBC to take the reasonable and rational step of fully analyzing how proposed regulations will affect the region’s quality of life before allowing activities that could jeopardize our national parks.” National parks at immediate risk include the Upper Delaware National Scenic and Recreational River and Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which are among the top ten most-visited national parks in the country and offer outstanding water quality and recreational opportunities.

"The judge's decision recognized and validated the tremendous concerns over threatened gas drilling for the Delaware River, our organizations and communities — that he found he could not render a final judicial opinion at this time does not diminish his acknowledgement that gas drilling is a major threat to this region, and that the actions of the agencies involved should be the subject of judicial review," said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.  "Of great importance, the judge did not side with agency efforts to simply and cavalierly set aside the role of the courts or the public in reviewing what the agencies are up to on this precedent setting matter."

“Riverkeeper is disappointed that the court concluded it was premature to decide whether DRBC and the Army Corps are required to conduct an environmental review of its proposed gas drilling regulations before finalizing them,” said Kate Hudson, Hudson Riverkeeper Watershed Program Director.  “However, we are pleased that the court’s decision allows Riverkeeper to challenge these regulations if and when DRBC ends the moratorium and votes to put the regulations in place.  The court emphasized that it is available and more than capable of stopping well development before any fracking wastewater is created if DRBC proceeds in a manner contrary to the law.  Riverkeeper fully intends to sue again and ask the court to take such action if DRBC puts at risk the drinking water for millions of New Yorkers by opening the Delaware River Basin to drilling without completing a full environmental review.”

In 2010, the DRBC, an agency that includes the governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware and the Army Corps of Engineers, proposed new regulations for natural gas development without first conducting an environmental impact analysis.  The regulations, according to the court documents, neglected to provide sufficient protections for local communities, the environment and nearby national parks.  The coalition’s lawsuit alleged that as federal agencies, the Army Corps and DRBC must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and analyze and inform the public of the environmental impacts of proposed gas drilling regulations as part of their decision-making process.  Yesterday, the court ruled that the lawsuit was not ripe, but that if the DRBC takes final action on the regulations, the coalition is authorized to refile the lawsuit.

Covering approximately 48,000 square miles, the geological formation called the Marcellus Shale occurs beneath the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Nearly 36 percent of the Delaware River Watershed is underlain by Marcellus Shale.  Based on industrial and academic estimates that trillions of cubic feet of natural gas are theoretically recoverable from the formation, over 30,000 and as many as 60,000 natural gas wells are anticipated in the Delaware River Basin alone and the impacts to water quality and quantity, air quality, recreation and the wildlife within and near treasured lands could be severe. 

Regulations on gas drilling in the basin are not expected to be proposed at any point in the near future.  The coalition will continue working to ensure the necessary protections are in place for the Delaware River Basin and that the DRBC conducts the required environmental reviews before considering adoption of drilling regulations.

###

About Delaware Riverkeeper Network: Delaware Riverkeeper Network is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the defense and restoration of the Delaware River Watershed since 1988.  Members live throughout the watershed in New York Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. For additional information, please visit www.delawareriverkeeper.org.

About the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA):  Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association has been the leading voice of the American people in the fight to safeguard our National Park System. With more than 750,000 members and supporters, NPCA is the largest independent membership organization dedicated to protecting our nation’s natural, historical, and cultural heritage for our children and grandchildren. For additional information, please visit www.npca.org.

About Hudson Riverkeeper: Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization whose mission includes safeguarding the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the watershed that provides New York City its drinking water.  Riverkeeper is actively involved in advocacy and public education surrounding the issue of natural gas development in the New York portion of the Delaware River Basin, in particular because of its potential impacts on the watershed and a pristine New York recreational area.   Riverkeeper has been New York’s clean water advocate for over 44 years, and has served as the model and mentor for the growing Waterkeeper movement that includes nearly 200 Keeper programs across the country and around the globe.  For more information on Riverkeeper, please visit www.riverkeeper.org

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