(Wednesday, March 9, 2011) Last night, Mike Simon, Councilperson for the Town of Wales, NY, introduced Ordinance No. 2-2011 as a Local Law under NYS Municipal Home Rule Act, which recognizes broad police powers under the statute. The bill, titled "Town of Wales Community Protection of Natural Resources" Ordinance, establishes a Bill of Rights for Wales residents and “recognizes and secures certain civil and political rights of the residents of the Town of Wales to govern themselves and protect themselves from harm to their persons, property and environment.”
The Ordinance was drafted in consultation with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
Two key prohibitions are enacted to protect the rights enumerated. The Ordinance bans “ any individual or corporation to engage in the extraction of natural gas or oil utilizing in whole or in part the process commonly known as and herein defined as hydraulic fracturing” and also prohibits “any individual or corporation to engage in the extraction of natural gas or oil utilizing in whole or in part the process commonly known as horizontal gas well drilling,” with the exception, in each case, of gas wells installed and operating at the time of enactment of the Ordinance.
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.”
Councilmember Simon commented, “I remember Love Canal and the human and property loss as a result of those in power standing idly by, permitting those with mere profit ambitions to ignore the best interests of the people. That old saying "if you ignore history you are bound to repeat"" it is true, and the hopeful passage of this ban on fracking represents the residents of the Town of Wales asserting their right to self governance, especially in regards to health and welfare."
Also included in the ordinance is 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, and the right of the people to enforce and protect these rights through their municipal government.
Last night the Town Council voted 5-0 on a resolution to publish and hold a public hearing on the ordinance. That hearing is scheduled for March 22. A vote to adopt the ordinance could be held on April 12.
The bill was modeled after the Ordinance adopted on November 16th of last year by the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. A similar ordinance was enacted by Mountain Lake Park, Maryland on March 6th.
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 a 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 New York state once the temporary moratorium expires.
The gas extraction technique known as “fracking” has been cited as a threat to surface and ground water throughout the region, and has been blamed for fatal explosions, the contamination of drinking water, local streams, the air and soil. Collateral damage includes lost property value, ingestion of toxins by livestock, drying up of mortgage loans for prospective home buyers, and threatened loss of organic certification for farmers in the affected communities.
Ben Price, Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, 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 it’s just not true that residents don’t have the right to decide whether or not they get fracked. We don’t have a gas drilling problem. We have a democracy problem. Its symptoms are the State’s refusal to recognize the right to local, community self-government, and the issuance of permits to drilling corporations that empower them to violate the rights of the human and natural communities.”
The Community Environmental 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.