How a Pennsylvania Law Has Elevated the Fracking Battle to a Civil Rights Fight

How a Pennsylvania Law Has Elevated the Fracking Battle to a Civil Rights Fight by Steven Rosenfeld, March 16, 2012, AlterNet
“What we are doing with our ordinances is challenging the authority of state government to license the corporations to violate rights,” said Ben Price, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) project director. “The courts have never seen that argument before. There has not been a civil rights argument against industrial trumping of local authority, or against the state using licensing statutes to trump local self-governing authority to protect health, safety and welfare.” … “It’s not a gas extraction problem,” said CELDF’s Price. “It’s a rights denial problem.”… Act 13 gives gas companies eminent domain power to take property for drilling operations. And it imposes confidentiality rules for physicians and health professionals who might treat anyone suffering from a drilling-related illness, and says those medical files are not public records…. “It is the corporate state,” said CELDF’s Price….The question in Pennsylvania is not whether there will be litigation to challenge the constitutionality of numerous Act 13 provisions, but which provisions will first be targeted and when will the local community rights ordinances join the legal fight…. Indeed, part of the reason the gas industry wanted Act 13 was because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that towns did have zoning authority to discourage drilling, and that authority did not conflict with state oil and gas laws. That unexpected decision – because it held that local zoning was not trumped by statewide gas regulations – opened the door to community rights ordinances. A year later, as Pittsburgh’s City Council saw the rapid incursion of the natural gas industry into western Pennsylvania, it became the first of a half-dozen municipalities to respond by asserting its “right to water,” “rights of natural communities,” “right to self-government” and “people as sovereign.” Pittsburgh’s ordinance, like the other Pennsylvania municipalities, also says that “natural gas extraction” companies “shall not have the rights of “persons” afforded by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, nor shall those corporations be afforded the protections of the commerce or contact clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution.” … in 1972, Section 27 was added to Article One of Pennsylvania Constitution, and reads, “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment….”

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