In a somewhat shocking but altogether not surprising move, many communities in Pennsylvania are embracing legal rights for forms of nature. Business Insider profiles the the city of Pittsburg is as being the first major city in the state to pass such legislation claiming the groundwork was laid in rural Pennsylvania towns and communities while trying to downplay the impact of rights for nature laws. BI has the audacity to claim that giving plants, rocks, etc. rights as a tradition that goes back thousands of years:
Twenty-three different environmental groups and legal experts replied to the email thread offering their expert advice. Price said the other suggestions all assumed that fracking was the inevitable outcome, because Pennsylvania state law allowed fracking.
In Pennsylvania, state law says municipalities aren’t allowed to regulate the oil and gas industry any more strictly than the state is. So, if the state says fracking is okay, cities can’t overrule that. This led to zoning experts to suggest containing fracking to certain areas in order to protect the rest of the city, and environmental groups to suggest laws to strengthen industry safety and regulations. But to Price, it wasn’t enough.
“I watched to see what kind of suggestions were put forward, and all of them colored within the lines,” Price said. “After seeing that was going to be the tenor of response from the environmental communities, I suggested our approach, which is a community rights strategy.”
So Price wrote back to Peduto, and told the councilman that “the only way to protect the community as a whole from fracking [is] to not allow fracking to occur.”
Environmentalists were all too happy to oblige:
[Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s] strategy was to declare a right to clean air, water, and soil for all the citizens of Pennsylvania. Under this rights of nature strategy, to allow fracking would threaten that right, so the city would have ban it.
The approach took environmental protection out of a regulatory realm — which allowed fracking to occur but under certain rules — and moved it to a legal realm — which argued fracking violated their legal rights to clean air and water and should therefore be banned.
“When I proposed that there was pretty much silence from everyone else in the conversation,” Price said.
After speaking with Price, Peduto wrote back to everyone on the thread on June 29, 2010, according to a copy obtained by Business Insider:
“The mission of the attorneys is not to try to minimize impact through zoning laws — that is a losing battle. The idea is to establish municipal authority and rights. [CELDF is] working with 120 local governments in PA presently and although controversial — it would be our only chance to prohibit gas drilling in Pittsburgh. The mission of this group is to create a unique way to stop all drilling within the city’s borders — nothing short. If anyone disagrees with this approach — and it is OK to disagree — please let me know now. It is imperative that we have a strong and unified base as we take this battle on and work to succeed.”
Rights are a concept that arose during the Enlightenment. They are moral principles derived from reality that define the terms and conditions humans interact with each other. Rights are human-centric since it is only humans that have the ability to think and reason as well as negotiate with other humans in peaceful interactions. Governments, in turn, are erected to defend the rights of the innocent from those (such as criminals) that would do them harm. Granting rights to forms of nature is a perversion of their purpose and an obliteration not just of individual rights but can result in the end of rights themselves.
Pittsburg is named after the British parliamentarian William Pitt who opposed taxation of the American Colonies during the build up to the Revolutionary War. While he opposed the colonies leaving the United Kingdom, Pitt was highly regarded by American Colonists at the time and to honor him, the people of a region in western Pennsylvania named their city after him. When it comes to the Fracking hysteria in Pittsburg, and in Pennsylvania overall, it is appropriate to cite William Pitt’s infamous quote:
Necessity if the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is argument of tyrants, it is the creed of slaves.