Tuesday, December 27, 2011

West Homestead Borough Council Unanimously Adopts Community Bill of Rights Ordinance That Bans Gas Drilling

(Tuesday, May 10, 2011)  The Borough Council of West Homestead, Pennsylvania,  unanimously adopted an ordinance that enacts aLocal Bill of Rights, along with a prohibition on natural gas extraction to protect those rights.  The bill, titled “WestHomestead Borough’s Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance; establishes specific rights of WestHomestead residents, including the Right to Water, the Rights of NaturalCommunities, the Right to a Sustainable Energy Future, and the Right to CommunitySelf-Government.

The Ordinance was drafted in consultation with the Community EnvironmentalLegal Defense Fund.

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 West Homestead Borough, with the exception of gas wells installed and operating at the time of enactment of this Ordinance, provided that the extraction of gas from those existing wells does not involve any practice or process not previously used for the extraction of gas from those wells.”

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 adopted on November 16th of last year by the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and drafted by the CommunityEnvironmental Legal Defense Fund. A similar ordinance was enacted by LickingTownship in Clarion County, Pennsylvania and in Mountain Lake Park, Maryland onMarch 6th of this year.

West Homestead Councilman Joe Baran said "We just don't know what the effects of this drilling will have over time to our kids."

Energy corporations have targeted communities in Maryland, West Virginia,Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, with plans to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale and other formations.  Corporate “land men” have been signing-up property owners to contracts at a steady clip for the past several years, and those leases, along with state laws that severely restrict the power of local governments to stop the drilling, means that wells are likely to be sited throughout the region, unless communities take a stand to protect their rights.

Mayor John Dindak of West Homestead said "This is the right thing to do.  I hope Governor Corbett gives more thought to what is being done."

Ben Price, Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal DefenseFund, applauded the Council for taking a stand on behalf of community rights.“State law preempts municipalities from regulating the industry to protect the community. But the State does not have the authority to issue permits tostate-chartered corporations to empower them to ‘legally’ violate the rights of the people. We don’t have a gas drilling problem. We have a democracy problem.”

The CommunityEnvironmental 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.