Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Pittsburgh's City Council to consider a ban on drilling for natural gas in the city

At a City Hall press conference today, Councilman Doug Shields announced he will introduce a bill that would ban corporations from drilling for gas in the city of Pittsburgh. He said he will introduce the ordinance following Council's current recess.

At the heart of "Pittsburgh's Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance" is this statement of law: It shall be unlawful for any corporation to engage in the extraction of natural gas within the City of Pittsburgh.

Also included in the ordinance is a local "bill of rights" that asserts legal protections for the right to water, the rights of natural communities, the right to local self-government, and the right of the people to enforce and protect these rights through their municipal government.

The bill was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund at the invitation of Council members.

Commenting on his legislative proposal, Shields stated, "Many people think that this is only about gas drilling. It's not - it's about our authority as a municipal community to say "no" to corporations that will cause damage to our community. It's about our right to community, local self-government."

Shields urged all municipalities in the Commonwealth to enact similar laws "to send a message to Harrisburg," and he insisted that a temporary moratorium "will not be an acceptable consolation prize for a failure of the State to recognize this local law and these fundamental rights."

Energy corporations are setting up shop in communities throughout Pennsylvania, with plans to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation. The frenzy of industrial gas extraction that once appeared to be confined to rural communities and state forest lands has taken residents of the city by surprise. Corporate "land men" have busily signed-up Pittsburgh property owners to contracts allowing wells to be erected on private property throughout the city. The prospect of paved-over green spaces, nights lit like airport runways, round-the-clock sounds of loud machinery, broken and pitted roads from the high volume truck traffic, and the threat of toxic trespass by a cocktail of patented chemicals and escaping methane into the ground water, has alarmed neighbors of lease-holders, and they've begun to organize in opposition to the proposed drilling.

Ben Price, Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, said he applauds the Council member for taking a stand on behalf of community rights. "Some will say it's controversial, or that the city doesn't have the authority to ban gas drilling. The only way that's true is if the State has the authority to strip the residents of the city of their rights, and it doesn't."

Price commented that "we don't have a gas drilling problem. What we have is a democracy problem. We need to stop treating the environmental symptoms and cure the societal disease that's brought fracking to our doorstep. The State says we don't have the right to decide whether or not we get fracked and that only the corporate-lobbied members of the General Assembly have the wisdom to decide how much harm should be legalized through state-issued permits. There's something sick about that kind of thinking. If we cure the systemic anti-democratic disorder manifested by our state's refusal to recognize the right to local, community self-government, gas drilling without consent of the governed will go away."

The gas extraction technique known as "fracking" has been cited as a threat to surface and ground water throughout the region, and has been blamed for fatal explosions, the contamination of drinking water, local streams, the air and soil. Collateral damage includes lost property value, ingestion of toxins by livestock, drying up of mortgage loans for prospective home buyers, and threatened loss of organic certification for farmers in the affected communities.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, located in Chambersburg, has been working with people in Pennsylvania since 1995 to assert their fundamental rights to democratic local self-governance, and to enact laws which end destructive and
rights-denying corporate action aided and abetted by state and federal governments.

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