Friday, August 19, 2011

Baldwin Borough Adopts Community Rights Ordinance That Bans “Fracking”

“We are proud that another community in Allegheny County has taken a  stand for Constitutional Rights, and we think this can only help in  getting other communities on board.”  -- Aaron Booz

 (Baldwin, PA) Tuesday, June 21th, the Baldwin Borough Council voted 5-1  to adopt a community rights ordinance that bans the corporate extraction  of natural gas. The Ordinance establishes a Bill of Rights for the Baldwin community and imposes the prohibition as a protection of those  rights.

 The Ordinance was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and taken up as a rallying point by members of the community, who took it to Council. The Ordinance prohibits “any individual or corporation to engage in the extraction of natural gas” with the exception of gas wells installed and operating at the time of enactment of the Ordinance.  
The Ordinance also includes 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; the right to a sustainable energy future, and the right of the people to enforce and protect these rights through their municipal government.

The law was modeled after the CELDF Ordinance adopted on November 16th of  last year by the City of Pittsburgh. Similar ordinances have been enacted  by Mountain Lake Park, Maryland, West Homestead PA, Licking Township PA,  Wales NY and have been introduced as bills by communities in  Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia.

 Council members Michael Stelmasczyk,, John Conley, and John Ferris  brought the Ordinance to the floor for a vote at the urging of concerned  community residents. At their April 19th Council meeting the question of  zoning or banning the gas extraction process known as “fracking” was  discussed.  Borough Solicitor Stanley Lederman noted that any action  taken by council would most probably be challenged in the courts and  suggested that a ban would be more protective of the community. Council  member Stelmasczyk commented that the state “has dropped the ball” on  this issue.   

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.

After the vote, community resident Aaron Booz commented , “We are proud  that another community in Allegheny County has taken a stand for  Constitutional Rights, and we think this can only help in getting other  communities on board.” 

That sentiment was echoed by Mel Packer, an organizer with Marcellus  Protest, who said “Sure is wonderful to find some elected officials who  can see thru all the propaganda and threats of the energy companies.”

 Eric Belcastro, Community Organizer with CELDF spoke to the Council  before the vote, emphasizing the Civil Rights focus of the ordinance and  explaining that it does not attempt to regulate how much state-permitted  fracking damage will be legal in the Borough.  Rather, it puts into  practice the fundamental rights that belong to every member of the community, and it makes real the oaths taken by each member of Council  who swore to “protect the health, safety and welfare” of the 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.