Residents Give Council New Easton Rights Bill
Easton City Council will hold a special meeting next month to discuss new fracking-centric bill of rights.
Easton City Council agreed Wednesday to hold a special meeting- July 10 at 6 p.m. - to discuss a modified citizen's bill of rights that would ban natural gas drilling in the city.
A vote introducing the ordinance could come as early as the council’s regular meeting the next night on July 11.
“I’m really encouraged,” said College Hill resident Larry Porter one of the citizens who proposed the ordinance. “I really think we can work together to craft something that would speak to all our concerns.”
Porter said that the practice needs to be banned because it emits toxic chemicals into the air and the water supply, violating the rights of area citizens. He said that the act is especially necessary in Easton now that Pennsylvania’s Act 13, signed this winter by Governor Tom Corbett, pre-empts local ordinances with respect to the development of oil and gas wells.
The law allows communities to regulate the activity but those laws must “allow for the reasonable development of oil and gas resources.” Easton passed an anti-fracking resolution in 2010.
He said that a law banning injection drilling in New Jersey makes the possibility of drilling in Pennsylvania that much more palatable for companies. There is no problem now with the drilling but Porter believes pre-emptive action is necessary.
“If we wait until they start drilling it’s too late,” he said.
The proposed ordinance was the second such proposed by citizens this week.
On Monday, a crowd of more than 40 people urged the council to adopt a broad citizen’s bill of rights that incorporated bans on well drilling and fracking in the city. Council thought that bill was too broad. The citizens came back Wednesday with a proposal that specifically banned the practices and used a general citizen’s rights packages to support it.
Porter argues small cities like Easton need to take back their rights from powerful corporations which have often bent federal, state and local laws to allow destructive practices like the ones he and other Easton residents are trying to ban.
According to the ordinance, partially developed by Community Environmental Defense Fund (CEDF), “That extraction cannot be achieved without violating the rights of residents and communities or endangering their health, safety, and welfare.”
He argued that the ordinance which stresses the right of local self-governance and denies the personhood of corporations is a backlash to the controversial 2010 Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on public campaigns as part of their free speech rights as “legal persons.”
The ordinance calls for a state Constitutional Amendment elevating the rights of citizens over corporations. A few rights not related to damages done to the environment, like the right to collective bargaining, were omitted from this latest draft.
Council is still worried that the ordinance is too broad and will not stand up to challenges.
"It (the ordinance) says that ‘corporations are not persons.’ I may agree with that but unfortunately the law says different now,” said Mayor Sal Panto.
“I don’t want to make a law just for the sake of making a law,” added Councilman Kenneth Brown who noted that recent law changes by the state and decisions by the Supreme Court could make the ordinance impossible to pass.
Ferry Street resident/blogger Noel Jones said that linking the drilling to citizen's rights would mean corporations would be reluctant to challenge the law because it would mean admitting to a violation of human rights.
"It would be a PR nightmare," she said.
Easton might even have attorneys volunteering to defend the ordinance for free according to Porter. “I would think legal teams around the country would jump to defend us,” he said.
Councilman Michael Fleck noted that the meeting on July 10 would allow city Attorney Joel Scheer to analyze the ordinance.