This commentary was written by Michael J. Fitzgerald, who has been a magazine and newspaper journalist for nearly 40 years. He lives around Seneca Lake and writes a weekly column which is published in the Finger Lakes Times on Fridays. He is involved with “We Are Seneca Lake“, an organization that is working to stop the storage of LPG in the salt caverns near Seneca Lake, and emceed the We Are Seneca Lake rally on January 31. He has also written a novel, The Fracking Wars.
This article was published on February 6, and is republished with the permission of both the author and the Finger Lakes Times.
New York Congressman Tom Reed has been simultaneously trying to calm the fears — and stoke the fires — of hydrofracking advocates ever since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in December the state won’t allow use of that gas extraction technology.
Then Reed introduced the federal “Defense of Property Rights Act” in late January, a bill that hydrofracking proponents are waving around as enthusiastically as if it is a latter-day Magna Carta.
“The bill would defend private property rights by providing an option for compensation on behalf of those unfairly harmed by government action,” Reed’s office says.
“Far too often private property owners are left on the sidelines while local, state and federal governments make decisions for them on what they can and cannot do with their property. This is not right; it is not fair; and it is not the American way.”
Reed’s placating paean aimed at his pro-gas constituents and donors seems to be reasonable on one level. But when you unwrap the American flag draped around it, it’s clear this bill is simply aimed at getting compensation for New York land owners who sought to cash in on hydrofracking, but now can’t.
If this bill ever made it into federal law, what a national regulatory nightmare. It suggests any rules or laws that could be considered a restraint on a property owner could be overturned in a judicial blink — and require compensation paid by taxpayers to boot.
Who would have thought Tom Reed was a closet libertarian?
The chances of the “Defense of Property Rights Act” getting any traction in any congressional committee is remote at best, probably why the publicity about it is mostly limited to pro-hydrofracking websites and energy company-sponsored newsletters.
But Reed is right about one thing.
A debate about property owners’ rights and property values is long overdue when it comes to the wild expansion of energy company facilities across the nation and in the Finger Lakes.
At the south end of Seneca Lake, a liquid propane gas storage proposal by the Crestwood Corporation has been the target of critics because of its potential for catastrophe, negative impacts on the region’s burgeoning tourist industry and the unwelcome industrialization that would be part of the Texas company’s plans.
But virtually no public discussion has taken place about the impact it would have on private property values, resale or costs of insurance.
Finger Lakes real estate agents are understandably reluctant to comment publicly on the topic.
But when an explosion last week of about 1,500 gallons of LPG leveled a hospital in Mexico City, killing several people and injuring many others, the potential local danger became very real.
Since then, gas storage critics have publicly compared the numbers between Mexico’s tragedy and Crestwood’s plan to store 88 million gallons of LPG in unlined salt caverns on the sloping shore of Seneca Lake.
Even a single railroad tank car carrying propane to the proposed Town of Reading site will have 20 times more LPG in it than the propane spilled in the Mexico explosion.
And there will be many LPG railcars dropping off propane at Crestwood every day.
It’s doubtful that Rep. Reed would be eager to sponsor a bill to ensure homeowners receive compensation if energy company’s facilities are responsible for a decline in their property values, whether in the Finger Lakes or anywhere else.
But perhaps constituents should contact Reed anyway. They could see if they get the same level of prompt legislative attention as landowners who can’t cash in on the hydrofracking bonanza.