Community Bill of Rights – the view from Pittsburgh, US
by Mary Beth Steisslinger
The Community Bill of Rights (CBoR) came about in Pittsburgh because there are many people here who have taken the Democracy School hosted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). Some progressive politicians in Pittsburgh were introduced to these ideas and supported local citizens in pursuing the development of Pittsburgh’s Community Bill of Rights. A couple of these politicians were willing to champion the Pittburgh CBoR once it was drafted with the help of CELDF and law students from local universities.
Information about the CBoR effort went viral on Pittsburgh’s social networks and there was some good on-line debate and at least a few public meetings to review or support the document. Many people were happy that the CBoR included language to prevent any Marcellus gas drilling inside Pittsburgh’s city limits. This was a precedent that actually goes against the US Constitution which says every community is legally bound to make room for any legitimate business endeavor in any municipality… basically meaning a community is never allowed to say NO, even to a nuclear power plant for example, all we can do is provide zoning to say “where” business can operate and where it cant. The CBoR was passed relatively quickly and the Mayor did not dare to oppose it initially as it had such overwhelming support from City Council and citizens.
Now, however, monied interests are flooding the State and we have a major gas boom happening because of the Marcellus gas deposits. We also have a governor who is basically subsidizing the corporate feast on our collective gas resource by refusing to charge appropriate fees or taxes or provide adequate environmental requirements. Our water, air and roads are being damaged significantly and we the citizens have to pick up the externalized costs to our health and infrastructure. A few are getting very rich, some new jobs are being created, but most of us are losers, especially considering that the gas boom has overshadowed all efforts to focus on renewable energy and climate change. Our Mayor in Pittsburgh is now actively working to reverse the Drilling Ban, because Marcellus interests are influencing him somehow (I wonder how?!) and are wily enough to realize this precedent must be undone before too many other cities get the idea… the idea being that citizens can reclaim the right to say NO to business interests, and begin to regulate them for sustainability and justice.
We can reclaim this right locally, regionally, nationally and globally… enough of of the 99% just don’t quite get it yet. It’s the idea that sovereignty actually lies with the people first, and government second, only as the people continue to be served by the government. When that ceases, it’s time to kick the bums out and rewrite our laws and constitutions.