By Ben Price, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/23
Not content to leave Pennsylvania communities with any control over gas drilling within their borders, state legislators have stripped municipalities of their zoning authority under Act 13, choosing energy corporations over the people who elected them. This isn’t exactly new ground for the legislature; indeed, taking away communities’ authority to govern themselves is a decades-old pastime in Harrisburg, one that has shifted into high gear over the past 20 years.
The legislature made logging a guaranteed right in all zoning districts back in 1992, giving in to timber interests and eliminating municipalities’ authority to provide for conservation zones.
Shortly thereafter, lawmakers stripped municipalities of their authority to regulate corporate water extraction, the use of genetically modified seeds, and the dumping of urban sewage sludge on farmland. They also required all communities to allow “reasonable” extraction of minerals.
Until recently, however, corporations still had to go to the trouble of suing municipalities if they wanted to overturn local laws. That changed in 2005, when, responding to the growing number of municipalities banning factory farms, the legislature adopted Act 38, the Agriculture, Communities, and Rural Environment Act, known as ACRE. It not only preempted municipal regulation of factory farming; it also gave private agribusiness a public lawyer: the state attorney general.
Under ACRE, instead of bothering to sue municipalities themselves, factory farmers could ask the attorney general to do so for them. Taxpayer-funded state attorneys were thus required to act at the behest of private corporations and against our communities to overturn democratically enacted laws. The state became not only an enactor of corporate-written law, but also a direct enforcer of it.
Using this as a model, Act 13 once again positions the state as corporate enforcer, this time through the Public Utility Commission. Under the law, the PUC can move to nullify any local laws that regulate gas extraction….
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