The Goldman prize - the world's largest environmental prize - has been given to lawyer Helen Slottje, for helping create dozens of fracking bans across New York.
Helen Slottje, based in Ithaca, has helped over 170 communities in New York over the last five years.
"Using a clause in the state constitution that gives municipalities the right to make local land use decisions, Helen Slottje provided pro-bono legal assistance, helping towns across New York defend themselves from oil and gas companies by passing local bans on fracking," says the Goldman prize website.
Helen and her husband moved from Boston to the rural landscape of Ithaca, upstate New York, both as corporate lawyers. But after attending a local community meeting discussing gas drilling in the area, Helen saw shocking images showing the devasting impact and risks caused by fracking.
"Once pristine landscapes were scarred by construction, drilling equipment and waste pits. Families were left to deal with dirty water and air, suffering health problems as a result. Horror turned to resolve, and Slottje decided to stay in Ithaca to see this fight through."
Since then she has been travelling across the state, volunteering her legal services.
After losing her first case to a large fracking company, Helen "gained insight into the importance of local zoning and land use laws to limit the adverse impacts of one property’s use on others. Further research led Slottje to conclude that in much the same way as local laws determine how much light and noise is permissible from activities in town, individual townships could use zoning laws to outright ban fracking within their borders."
Helen met with local citizens and with the help of husband David, drew up a local law to ban fracking. Once the ball was rolling, local people started petitions in agreement with the ban. This spread to nearby towns and cities, until Helen was driving across the state to give her legal advice.
In 2011, Dryden's town board passed a law banning fracking. The industry sued the town and lost, and the case is now before the state's highest court after an unsuccessful appeal.
Now over 170 towns and cities have passed the local law thanks to Helen's framework.
The prize for this prestigious award is $150,000, of which Helen says she will put into raising global awareness for the campaign.
To learn more about Helen Slottje's work visit www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/helen-slottje or watch the short video below.
This year's Goldman Prize has also been awarded to Desmond D'Sa from Africa for bringing together communities in Durban against a toxic waste plant, Ramesh Agrawal from India, organised people to demand their right to information about industrial development projects, helping to shut down a large coal mine, Suren Gazaryan from Russia, for exposing government corruption and destruction of protected forestland, Rudi Putra from Indonesia, for dismantling illegal palm oil plantations and Ruth Buendía from Peru for reuniting indigenous communities against large scale dams.
(Image of Helen thanks to www.ithacajournal.com)
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