Pennsylvania, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed and where the U.S. coal, oil and nuclear industries began, has adopted what may be the most anti-democratic, anti-environmental law in the country, giving gas companies the right to drill anywhere, overturn local zoning laws, seize private property and muzzle physicians from disclosing specific health impacts from drilling fluids on patients.
The draconian new law, known as Act 13
, revises the state’s oil and gas statutes, to allow oil companies to drill for natural gas using the controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing
or fracking, where large volumes of water and toxic chemicals are pumped into vertical wells with lateral bores to shatter the rock and release the hydrocarbons. The law strips rights from communities and individuals while imposing new statewide drilling rules.
“It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government,” said Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
, which has helped a handful of local communities—including the city of Pittsburgh—adopt community rights ordinances that elevate the rights of nature and people to block the drilling. “The state has surrendered over 2,000 municipalities to the industry. It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it.”
“Now I know what it feels like to live in Nigeria,” said recently retired Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields. “You’re basically a resource colony for multi-national corporations to take your natural resources, take them back to wherever they are at, add value to them, and then sell them back to you.”
Needless to say, Pennsylvania’s top political leadership—Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican-controlled legislature
—see Act 13 as a pro-business, clean-energy bill
creating jobs, revenue and improving environmental laws surrounding drilling. That the 174-page bill
was essentially rammed through the legislature over objections from local officials, environmentalists and a handful of legislators who said it not only turned
“300 years of local zoning upside down,” but exposed the state to liability from wells, was irrelevant. “This growing industry will provide new career opportunities that will give our children a reason to stay here in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said, when signing
the bill into law on February 14. It takes effect 60 days later.
“A lot of local officials, Republicans and Democrats, have begun to drill into this bill and… are really coming to the conclusion that in their zeal to carry the water for the gas and oil industry people, that they really overreached,” said Shields, who predicted that it was only a matter of weeks before the first legal challenges were filed. “This is really wrangling them. Maybe they are all for oil and gas drilling. And maybe they don’t care about the environment. But they sure as heck care about their power.”