Quantcast

Setting the Stage for Environmental Protection From Fossil Fuel Extraction

Energy

By Maya K. van Rossum

Act 13 was, without a doubt, an incredible overreach and giveaway to the gas drilling industry. Supportive legislators are quick to acknowledge that the industry helped them write the legislation. Displacing local zoning and providing automatic waivers with minimal environmental protections are among the many giveaways the law provided.

While for years the environmental community has looked to the promise of Pennsylvania’s constitution and its promise of “pure water,” “clean air” and “preservation of the natural … environment” the fulfillment of that promise has always remained unfulfilled by our legislature and the courts. So much so that when the Delaware Riverkeeper Network included it as a cornerstone of our attack on Act 13 in our recently won legal action, many in the community derided us as wasting our limited legal briefing space. 

The fossil fuel industry is spreading renewed devastation today—shale gas development, Bakken oil, tar sands oil—all bring with them a heavy burden of devastation, polluting our water, air and soils, contaminating precious water supplies, clearing forests and jeopardizing the safety of our communities.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Dec. 18, 2013 decision vindicated the importance and power of the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution; it promised all generations of Pennsylvanians that they will benefit from pure water, clean air and a healthy environment, giving them the ability to defend that right in the courts if it is violated.

The power of the Supreme Court opinion should extend far beyond the issue of shale gas development and the boundaries of Pennsylvania. 

  • The decision promises present and future generations a healthy environment:

"[T]he Supreme Court has done the commonwealth a great service by reinvigorating the environmental protections that are wisely enshrined in the Pennsylvania Constitution." - Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial, "Tapping Breaks on Gas Giveaways" 12/26/2013

  • The decision obligates the government (local and state) to honor the social contract embodied in Article 1, Section 27 of the PA Constitution that promises clean air, pure water, preservation of natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment, and that commits to protect public natural resources for present and future generations.
  • The decision restores the right of local communities to better protect their local, natural and historic resources, when the state government fails to do enough.

Rather than recognize that the State Supreme Court rendered a sound, solid, protective and honorable decision worthy of the historic stature it has been given (“This may one day be seen as the most important environmental decision ever written by an American jurist,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Op Ed by Bruce Ledewitz, Dec. 26, 2013), the Corbett Administration and the PA Department of Environmental Protection head, Chris Abruzzo, are wasting more time, money and resources to try to revive and defend Act 13. By filing their insulting request for reconsideration to the Court, not only are Corbett and Abruzzo wasting resources, but they are bringing shame upon their own heads defending an unconstitutional law designed only to benefit an industry seeking to make big profits on the backs of Pennsylvania’s people and environment.

The Supreme Court decision should and will inspire a new generation of environmental protection in Pennsylvania—inspiring strong legislation by newly emboldened and empowered legislators, and supporting strong litigation when industry dollars are used to drive bad legislation and bad political acts.

But it should also inspire other states, and even the federal government, to construct their own social contracts promising pure water, clean air and healthy environments for present and future generations. As Chief Justice Castille so eloquently described, Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment was inspired and overwhelmingly supported in the wake of, and in response to, the environmental devastation of the coal industry and others.  

The fossil fuel industry is spreading renewed devastation today—shale gas development, Bakken oil, tar sands oil—all bring with them a heavy burden of devastation, polluting our water, air and soils, contaminating precious water supplies, clearing forests and jeopardizing the safety of our communities. Nuclear power is killing fish by the billions and consuming valuable water. Coal mining and its mountaintop removal continue to fill and destroy natural ecosystems and harm communities. There is plenty of justification today to inspire a nationwide, even worldwide, call for Pennsylvania’s promise of environmental protection for all.

Let’s use the wisdom of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices to inspire protection that will span the nation and span the generations.

Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution promises:

…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.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

The 16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg speaks during her protest action for more climate protection with a reporter. Steffen Trumpf / picture alliance / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

It's been 30 years since Bill McKibben rang the warning bells about the threat of man-made climate change — first in a piece in The New Yorker, and then in his book, The End of Nature.

Read More Show Less
At the International Motor Show (IAA), climate protestors are calling for a change in transportation politics. © Kevin McElvaney / Greenpeace

Thousands of protestors marched in front of Frankfurt's International Motor Show (IAA) on Saturday to show their disgust with the auto industry's role in the climate crisis. The protestors demanded an end to combustion engines and a shift to more environmentally friendly emissions-free vehicles, as Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Setting and testing the line protections for Siemens SF6 gas insulated switchgear in 2007. Xaf / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Electricity from renewable sources is growing exponentially as the technology allows for cheaper and more efficient energy generation, but there is a dark side that has the industry polluting the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Elizabeth Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Sweet and regular potatoes are both tuberous root vegetables, but they differ in appearance and taste.

They come from separate plant families, offer different nutrients, and affect your blood sugar differently.

Read More Show Less
Scientists in Saskatchewan found that consuming small amounts of neonicotinoids led white-crowned sparrows to lose significant amounts of weight and delay migration, threatening their ability to reproduce. Jen Goellnitz / Flickr

By Julia Conley

In addition to devastating effects on bee populations and the pollination needed to feed humans and other species, widely-used pesticides chemically related to nicotine may be deadly to birds and linked to some species' declines, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is set to unveil a package of measures on Friday, Sept. 20, to ensure that the country cuts its greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030, compared with the 1990 levels.

Read More Show Less
Assorted plastic bottles. mali maeder / Pexels

California ended its 2019 legislative session Saturday without passing two bills that would have led the nation in tackling plastic pollution, The Mercury News reported.

Read More Show Less
People carry children on a flooded street in Almoradi, Spain on Sept. 13. JOSE JORDAN / AFP / Getty Images

Record rainfall and flooding in southeastern Spain killed six people as of Saturday, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less