Pittsburgh’s Big Smackdown

By Curtis Hewston

Yesterday the Pittsburgh city council smacked Goliath right between the eyes. They voted unanimously, 9-0, to ban natural gas drilling within the city limits. In doing so, according to a group called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Pittsburgh has passed “a ‘first-in-the-nation’ ordinance that asserts the primacy of community interests over gas company rights.” HOO-RAY!

Pennsylvania has become ground zero in an epic battle between deadly corporate profiteering and the will of the downtrodden citizen, who merely wants to preserve what the state’s constitution guarantees him:

Article I, Section 27: The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

The state seems pretty clear on that, no? But Pennsylvania also sits atop the Marcellus Shale — a huge repository of natural gas made newly accessible by a brutal drilling “technology” called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. And with that comes incredible money to be had, and politicians to be bought, and mobs to be quelled.

Former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge is one of those politicians. He gets $75,000 a month to help lobby his own kind for their efforts. And through March 2010, the industry donated more than $3 million to statewide and legislative candidates. Republican Governor-Elect and Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett received $372,000. State senate Republican leader and Lieutenant Governor Joseph Scarnati received $117,000.

The mob thing? Last month, Pennsylvania’s state director of Homeland Security was forced to resign after it was learned he had hired a private company to spy on protesters — as in gas drilling protesters — and warn the state’s law agencies and the private drilling companies of their activities. Ain’t that a hoot?!

The office of Pittsburgh’s pro-drilling mayor, Luke Ravenstahl, has not commented on the ordinance, but they said previously the mayor opposed the ban because of the industry’s economic benefits. (The mayor has 10 days to decide on a veto, but council’s ordinance looks veto-proof.)

And the pro-drilling Marcellus Shale Coalition — the group that hired Tom Ridge — called the vote “expected, yet disappointing.” The ban exacerbates “the city’s weak financial standing, and at the same time is a straightforward attack on individual property rights,” coalition president and executive director Kathryn Klaber said.

Now, that property rights thing is kind of funny, because the coalition also supports something called forced-pooling, which would keep hold-out landowners from blocking development of the gas from leased properties around them — you know, to prevent “a crazy quilt” (her words) of properties owned by people exercising their property rights.

“At a time when the natural gas industry is generating jobs and prosperity for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians and economic development across the commonwealth,” Klaber continues, “it’s unfortunate that the council continues to maintain a shortsighted view regarding responsible shale gas development and its overwhelmingly positive economic, environmental and energy security benefits.” (Bullshit, cough, cough, bullshit.)

City Council President Darlene Harris scoffed at the assertions about job creation, saying, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “There’s going to be a lot of jobs for funeral homes and hospitals,” referring to health concerns associated with gas production. “That’s where the jobs are. Is it worth it?”

The industry will likely sue over Pittsburgh’s ordinance, arguing that the ban conflicts with the state’s authority to regulate gas production. And, of course, they’ve already paid for the state’s authorities, so it’s they who should be handling that sort of stuff.

So stay tuned. Pittsburgh has made a game of it.

Share This:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • Blogger
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Google
  • Google Buzz
  • Google Reader
  • NewsVine
  • Reddit
  • Technorati
  • Tumblr
  • Add to favorites
  • email
  • Print

One Comment

  1. Posted November 17, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Curtis, the industry’s bs outrage over Pittsburgh’s ban being an attack on “individual property rights” is laughable. Not only b/c they poured tons of dough into hundreds of PA legislators’ campaign accounts to get them to enact forced pooling - but also b/c, at this very moment, drilling corporations are applying for Public Utility status. You know what Public Utilities can do right? They can claim eminent domain over our yards, farms,etc., but they can only use this power for the public good. Yet here are privately held corporations trying to seize this status for their own good. Rock on Pittsburgh.

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *