No 228 Posted by fw, July 25, 2011
How would you like to live in a community that enacts an enforceable Bill of Rights that includes the following protections? —
Well, the Wilkinsburg Borough Council (PA) unanimously adopted a community rights Ordinance that includes these very provisions. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) helped the community draft the Ordinance.
Here’s CELDF’s July 20, 2011 Media Release announcing the news —
“You just have to look at Washington County and what they’ve done with long wall mining –destroying houses and highways and watersheds and the state has done really almost nothing to protect us. So I don’t know there is a lot we can do but I think we need to continue on, after we pass this, to look for additional ways to protect our residents.” — Jason Cohn, Vice President of Borough Council
By a unanimous vote, the Borough Council of Wilkinsburg, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, adopted ordinance number 28-70 that enacts an enforceable Local Bill of Rights, along with a prohibition on natural gas extraction to protect those rights.
The bill, titled Wilkinsburg Borough’s Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance establishes specific rights of Borough residents, including the Right to Water, the Rights of Natural Communities, the Right to a Sustainable Energy Future, and the Right to Community Self-Government.
The Ordinance was drafted in consultation with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).
The key prohibition enacted to protect the rights enumerated states: “It shall be unlawful for any corporation to engage in the extraction of natural gas within Wilkinsburg Borough, with the exception of gas wells installed and operating at the time of enactment of this Ordinance.”
The ordinance goes on to assert: “Corporations in violation of the prohibition against natural gas extraction, or seeking to engage in natural gas extraction shall not have the rights of “persons” afforded by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, nor shall those corporations be afforded rights under the 1st or 5th amendments to the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution, nor shall those corporations be afforded the protections of the commerce or contracts clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
The bill also recognizes the right of the people to a form of government where they live “which recognizes that all power is inherent in the people, that all free governments are founded on the people’s authority and consent, and that neither individuals nor corporate entities and their directors and managers shall enjoy special privileges or powers under the color of state law which purports to make community majorities subordinate to them.”
The bill was modeled after the Ordinance drafted by CELDF and adopted on November 16th of last year by the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. West Homestead Borough adopted virtually the same Ordinance on May 10th, followed by Baldwin Borough on June 21st. Both municipalities are in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Mountain Lake Park, Maryland adopted the Community Rights gas drilling ban on March 6th of this year, and Wales, New York did so on June 14th, 2011. A similar Community Rights Ordinance prohibiting the depositing or storage of frack-water was enacted last October by Licking Township in Clarion County, Pennsylvania.
At the hearing prior to the Council’s vote, four residents spoke in favor of the community rights gas extraction ban, and no residents spoke against it. Terri Supowitz, who consulted with CELDF and introduced the legislation to Council, reiterated the need for local self-governance in the face of corporations licensed and permitted by the State to violate the rights of residents and nature.
The final testimony came from a man who recently moved with his family to Wilkinsburg. He noted that he would never move to any place that allowed this form of gas drilling within its boundaries, commenting “Please approve any ordinance that would ban the drilling of Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Wilkinsburg. There is really no room for such environmentally devastating practices in our urban areas.“
The measure was introduced on a motion by Councilwoman Pamela Macklin, and seconded by Councilman Carl Lewis.
Jason Cohn, Vice President, commented “I think it’s great that we’re passing this tonight. The one thing that I want to point out to Council is that I don’t think it ends our responsibility in monitoring this situation. I’m not sure what else we can do, but I’m pretty concerned. Every day there is new information that’s pretty scary – some of the discussion they are having about permitting drilling to happen horizontally underneath people’s property against their will, we’ve made that an institution in Pennsylvania. You just have to look at Washington County and what they’ve done with long wall mining destroying houses and highways and watersheds and the state has done really almost nothing to protect us. So I don’t know there is a lot we can do but I think we need to continue on after we pass this to look for additional ways to protect our residents.“
Following a “yea” vote of 9-0, Council thanked Terri Supowitz for bringing the issue to the attention of the community, as well as residents Joni Rabinowitz and Caludia Detwiler. President of Council, Eugenia Moore commented “I would like to reiterate that not only should one Council member be thanked, or one resident, but the entire group of us.” Those in attendance applauded enthusiastically and there were lots of smiles.
Eric Belcastro of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund applauded the Council, saying, “This is the culmination of a lot of work, study and soul-searching. Members of Council took a stand on behalf of community rights. State law licenses corporations to ‘legally’ violate the rights of the people, and then pretends to preempt municipalities from protecting the health, safety and welfare of the community. But the State does not have the authority to make it illegal for Council members to honor their oaths of office…not in Wilkinsburg, and not in any community.”
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, headquartered 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.