Central NY lawyer wins $175K environment prize

A central New York lawyer who helped dozens of communities across the state ban fracking for shale g

A central New York lawyer who helped dozens of communities across the state ban fracking for shale gas has been chosen for the $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize.

Ithaca lawyer Helen Slottje is among six recipients selected for the prize, which recognizes grass-roots activism around the globe. The San Francisco-based Goldman Environmental Foundation announced the winners on Monday.

Slottje received the award for helping communities fight shale gas development through zoning laws. The industry is fighting the bans in state court. After two lower state courts upheld the bans in the central New York towns of Dryden and Middlefield, the top-level Court of Appeals is expected to decide the issue later this summer.

Slottje, who has offered her services to town governments for free, was nominated by the environmental group Earthjustice. Along with her husband, David, Slottje has helped pave the way for more than 170 communities in New York to take action against gas drilling.

New York has not allowed shale gas development using high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, since it began an environmental review in 2008. Dozens of communities have enacted moratoriums or bans in case the state starts permitting drilling using fracking, which pumps chemicals and water underground to break open shale rock formations.

Numerous other communities, many of them in the region of southern New York with the richest shale gas deposits, have refused to enact bans and have passed resolutions supporting gas development instead.

Other winners of this year’s Goldman prize were recognized for fighting a coal mine in India; shutting down a toxic waste dump in South Africa; preventing deforestation for palm oil production in Sumatra; defending protected land around Sochi from seizure for the Olympics; and stopping two large dams that would have displaced nearly 10,000 indigenous people in the Amazon.

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