The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is actively involved in many issues to help prevent corporations from raping America’s land and resources, including speaking out against uranium mining and mountaintop removal.
Earlier this month, CELDF issued an “Open Letter to Communities Working to Stop Fracking,” bringing attention to Pittsburgh, PA – which has set a great example for other cities, towns, and communities to follow to take back their power.
Pittsburg’s recent ban against hydrofracking within their city limits really sends a message. Local officials – acting against the heavy lobby of energy companies – have moved to protect the people from the significant threats posed to their life and health by natural gas drilling companies engaged in hydrofracking (a.k.a. “fracking” in the energy industry) within the Marcellus Shale area of the United States (i.e. from the New England, down into The Mid Atlantic).
Here is what CELDF reported:
“This morning, the Pittsburgh City Council became the first municipality in the United States to ban natural gas extraction within its boundaries. The ordinance isn’t just a ban – it consists of a new Bill of Rights for Pittsburgh residents (which includes a right to water along with rights for ecosystems and nature), and then proceeds to ban those activities – including natural gas extraction – which would violate those rights. But it doesn’t stop there…
New Pittsburgh Ordinance Takes Back Rights from Corporations
The ordinance seeks to undo over a hundred years’ worth of law in the United States which gives corporations greater rights than the communities in which they do business. Those rights come in two primary forms – first are corporate constitutional rights and powers (including court-bestowed constitutional rights of persons, or “personhood” rights), and second, are corporate rights that have been codified by statewide laws (like Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act), which liberate the corporation from local control in individual issue areas.
When a community makes a decision which runs afoul of either of those corporate rights frameworks, corporate decision makers use the courts to throw out the community’s decision. If a municipality bans a State-permitted activity, it gets sued for “taking” the corporation’s property as a constitutional violation. If it attempts to legislate in an area in which the State has created a regulatory program which permits the activity, the community then gets sued by the corporation for violating preemptive state law. . .
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What does this have to do with fracking in the Marcellus shale formation?
Everything. The rationale behind the Pittsburgh ordinance is a simple one. If we respect and comply with those frameworks of law – playing within the sandbox that has been constructed for us – we’ll get drilled. It’s as straightforward as simple arithmetic.
Which brings us to another logical conclusion: if we want to stop the drilling, we must therefore undo those false corporate rights frameworks. Over a hundred other municipal governments across Pennsylvania have joined Pittsburgh in reaching that revelation – that the only way to stop agribusiness factory farms, sewage sludge dumping, corporate waste disposal, and natural gas extraction is to frontally and directly challenge those layers of corporate law which have removed any vestige of community self-government.
As with the passage of similar ordinances by municipalities in Pennsylvania over the past several years, which have dealt with an array of issues, the Pittsburgh ordinance will result in a lot of hand-wringing by statewide environmental groups, which have made long careers out of not coloring outside of the lines.
As they see it, their job is to work within existing law and do their best to limit environmental damage. That’s why they call for more zoning laws (even though horizontal drilling defeats the purpose of zoning the placement of drilling pads, for example), or a severance tax (which ironically, encourages even more drilling to produce more revenue). It’s why they talk about “responsible” drilling and natural gas as a “bridge” to a sustainable energy future.
It’s why they’ve talked themselves into seeing drilling as inevitable, and that the best we can do is simply to endure it. In doing so, they’ve condemned our communities to the same kind of damage that the gas corporations are forcing upon us. They may be nice people, but they’re not our friends in this mess. They’re too obedient in a situation that demands fighting back.
Stopping the drilling means coming face-to-face with the reality that this country isn’t what we thought it was…. that the rights-frameworks claimed by the corporations are not just a tragic mistake, but are the underlying reality demonstrated by our existence in a system in which the legal system serves corporate production, but not community democracy.
These local ordinances intend to turn that structure upside down – subordinating corporate “rights” and corporate production to local self-governance and the rights of nature, rather than the other way around. For that reason, if we truly believe in economic and environmental sustainability, variations of the Pittsburgh ordinance must spread to a thousand other communities in the path of the Marcellus shale drillers.