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Free Speech Debate Ensues After New York Town Bans Discussion of Gas Drilling

On February 12, 2013, two environmental groups reportedly filed a lawsuit in federal district court against the Town of Sanford, New York, alleging that the town board unconstitutionally restricted free speech rights by passing a resolution that precludes further discussion of natural gas drilling at monthly board meetings.  Sanford, with a population of 2,400 residents, is located near the Pennsylvania border and lies above the Marcellus Shale formation.  In September 2012, the board unanimously approved a resolution which provided that “hereafter no further comment will be received during the public participation portion of this or any future meeting regarding natural gas development,” until the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation completes its environmental review of hydraulic fracturing.  The board has heard extensively from both sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate and, according to Sanford attorney Herb Kline, “the fracking discussions occupied so much time during the public participation portion of the prior meeting that the town board was not able to accomplish its regular business.”  As an alternative, Mr. Kline said the board is willing to accept written materials regarding gas drilling.