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Anti-fracking activists cheer 'victory' that 'gives new life to environmental rights'

Photo: shadbushcollective/cc/flickr

Anti-fracking campaigners in the U.S. are cheering a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that "gives new life to people’s environmental rights."

On Thursday, the Court ruled 4-2 that provisions of the state's Gov. Corbett-crafted, drilling-friendly Act 13 were unconstitutional.

Act 13, PennLive explains in an editorial,

presumed to dictate one-size-fits-all zoning rules for the oil and gas industry in every local government in every part of the state. It aimed to force municipalities to allow drilling in every type of zoning category, even residential areas. [...]

Act 13, the court said, unconstitutionally overrides a municipality's responsibility to protect neighbors and the environment from the fallout imposed by heavy industrial operations.

The court also ruled the Legislature and Corbett gave the oil and gas industry too much room to avoid development setback rules that protect the commonwealth's waterways. [...]

Thursday's ruling went further and revived a doctor's challenge to the notorious "gag rule" in Act 13. It prevents doctors from talking freely about cases in which patients might have fallen ill from exposure to chemicals used in drilling, on the theory that the identity of many such chemicals is a trade secret. The court also made it clear that townships can sue on behalf of residents in environmental cases such as this.

“Today’s decision by the State Supreme Court is a huge victory for communities throughout Pennsylvania that have been fighting desperately against the devastating realities of fracking that big oil and gas corporations – and our bought-off governor – have thrust upon them," Sam Bernhard, Food & Water Watch's Pennsylvania Organizer, stated.

"This decision is a stark acknowledgement from our top court that fracking is indeed hazardous to public health and the environment, and should therefore be regulated by communities that don’t want it," Bernhard said. 

Thomas Linzey, the Executive Director of the Mercersburg, Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund also cheered the ruling, calling it "a significant victory for municipalities seeking to regulate the placement of oil and gas wells and other structures on the surface of land."

The ruling also "gives new life to people’s environmental rights, and serves more importantly, in some ways, to shield our communities from a state legislature that has been privatized by certain industries,” Linzey continued.

However, Linzey cautioned, it does not ban fracking in the state, and "there remain tremendous legal barriers in place which subordinate the authority of people, communities, and nature to protect themselves from fracking and the wide range of activities that the state legislature has forced into our municipalities."

Still, as Bernhard adds, "As we’re seeing from a growing fracking moratorium movement in the State Legislature, there are more and more Pennsylvania communities turning against fracking every day. We are sure to see many of them acting immediately to protect themselves with local legislation against drilling.”

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