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Fracking Ban in Baldwin Borough, Pennsylvania

The frackers are everywhere these days. And they’re very effective at neutralizing opposition at the federal, state and provincial level. See, it’s easier to buy those politicians who don’t have to drink the flammable water after the frackers have left. In the US, the frackers even purchased a federal exemption from the Clean Water Act (through Dick Cheney). But ordinary people have a better chance at fighting the frackers at the local level. Local politicians do have to drink the same water. But it takes a community effort to fight them off. One such recent success was in Baldwin Borough in Pensylvania, a state that is greatly at risk for turning into a poisoned Gasland.

Baldwin Borough is in Allegheny county close to Pittsburgh and it has about 20,000 people. On 21 June 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 ban is similar to one from the city of Pittsburgh.

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.

(Wikipedia)

The borough had in its corner a tough non-profit organization from Pennsylvania named the Community Environmental Legal Defence Fund (CELDF). Their mission is helping community groups and municipalities write and adopt laws that assert community rights, including the right to local self-government, the rights of nature, and the subordination of corporate privilege to the rights of the community.

The thing is a community on it’s own isn’t going to have a fair fighting chance against a powerful oil and gas company. It needs all the help it can get. And CELDF is just such a champion for communities. It helped the Baldwin Borough to draft its ordinance, as it has done for numerous others. 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 Ordinance itself is found at this link. If your community is under threat from fracking or other damaging corporate activities, it might be a good start to study the Baldwin Borough ordinance as well as the others on the CELDF link. You can contact CELDF by email at info@celdf.org for advice or assistance.

The point is that every community has certain rights, including the inalienable right to water and the right to self-governance, such that “corporate entities and their directors and managers shall not enjoy special privileges and powers under the law which make community majorities subordinate to them.” (Ordinance) But in this world you have to fight for your rights, you have to stand up for them, and you have to pre-empt usurpers. That’s what Baldwin Borough has managed. Preemption is very important: the community has to see off corporate polluters at the pass; once they’ve entered you’re screwed. If the community is not willing to do that, it will not be sustainable in a world of corporate predators.


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