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The Law

Fundamental Rights

Pennsylvania citizens' most fundamental legal rights are spelled out in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Regarding our physical surroundings, Article I, Section 27 of the Constitution clearly states:

“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.”

Pre-emption of Rights

However, Pennsylvania laws such as the Oil and Gas Act of 1984 seek to undermine these rights, preventing local people and local governments from having a say in where extraction and pollution by oil and gas companies are allowed in the state. Another such law is the much-discussed Act 13, signed into law in early 2012 by Governor Tom Corbett. Act 13 was written to pre-empt local zoning, declaring that no land in PA is off-limits, and allowing drilling and fracking to happen even closer to homes, schools, and hospitals. Written by industry attorneys, it also contains a host of giveaways to industry, including preventing doctors from speaking about the illnesses caused by shale gas drilling. (Click here to learn more about the process that created Act 13.)

Act 13 – Where are we now?

Unless the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reconsiders the case, the zoning provisions of Act 13 have been overturned by Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, meaning that local cities and towns will still have the ability to determine where fracking can and cannot occur. However, this decision is only a partial victory, because striking down these provisions of Act 13 doesn’t go far enough. It only brings us back to where we were in January of 2012. Toxic fracking continues all over the region, and it harms our neighbors. All of our surrounding counties have wells, and the number of wells in Allegheny Country stands as of August 2013 at 31 and rising. Toxic fracking continues to move closer to our homes in the South Hills, and this ruling does nothing to protect our air and water from the toxic chemicals used in every drilling operation, nor does it do anything to protect property values.

We in SHAADD are aware that the state Constitution is a higher and more primary form of law, and we seek to remind our elected representatives of their responsibility to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Yes, but does the language in the Constitution about “clean air” and “pure water” mean anything?

In 2010, the City of Pittsburgh banned shale gas drilling on the basis of the Article 1, Section 27. This emboldened the following communities to do the same:

  • West Homestead, PA
  • Wilkinsburg, PA
  • Forest Hills, PA
  • State College, PA
  • Baldwin Borough, right here in the South Hills of Allegheny County

Click here to find out what we can do to prevent this heavy industry from harming our communities.