Buffalo Law Review
Green Energy v. The Constitution: New York State’s Battle with Home Rule Provisions in the Age of Environmentalism
In the era of metal straws, reusable grocery bags, and glass water bottles, there is no doubt society is becoming more and more environmentally conscious. This ecological ethos has manifested itself inhuge policy shifts away from traditional fossil fuel energy and toward renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. Lawmakers throughoutthe world are making agreements and commitments aimed at decreasingreliance on fossil fuels. In the United States, New York State has taken a leading role in the quest toward renewable energy. With New York State’s ambitious climate goals, though, have come serious encroachments on powers traditionally held by local governments.
To keep up with its robust environmental policy goals, New York has seized power away from municipalities regarding the siting of large-scale energy projects, such as wind and solar plants. The State has, slowlybut surely, bestowed upon the executive branch the power to control energy siting. As a result, municipalities largely affected by these projectsgrapple for a voice, only to be silenced by unelected officials in Albany.Lawmakers have quelled local dissent through the use of “unreasonably burdensome” clauses nestled within the two controlling energy siting statutes. These clauses effectively allow State officials to ignore local laws or ordinances which conflict with a proposed energy siting project if they find the local legislation to be “unreasonably burdensome”—a term without a definition.
Many view the energy siting process embraced by New York as a violation of the “home rule” provisions found within the New York State Constitution. In short, the home rule provisions grant local governmentsa broad range of powers.1 Despite these home rule powers, however, thejurisprudence of the New York State Court of Appeals suggests the broad and overreaching energy siting process implemented by the Legislature would preempt any local rules to the contrary.
This Comment provides an analysis of New York’s environmentalpolicy, the statutory processes in place to approve large-scale energy siting projects, and proposed changes to the home rule jurisprudence embraced by New York courts to protect local interests and faithfully adhere to the Constitution’s home rule provisions. Part I details the evolution and current state of New York’s environmental policy. Part IIdiscusses energy siting generally and the regime adopted in New York to approve large-scale energy siting projects. Part III discusses the home rule provisions found within the New York State Constitution, along withdoctrines adopted by the courts which have limited their practical reach.Finally, Part IV argues New York courts should reconsider their jurisprudence surrounding home rule and, accordingly, invalidate the sections of the governing energy siting statutes which encroach upon local governments’ powers.
Alexa L. Archambault,
Green Energy v. The Constitution: New York State’s Battle with Home Rule Provisions in the Age of Environmentalism,
Buff. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.buffalo.edu/buffalolawreview/vol69/iss3/6
Energy and Utilities Law Commons, Environmental Law Commons, State and Local Government Law Commons