Published on Monday, June 15, 2009 by Reuters
TAYLORSTOWN, Pennsylvania - A small Pennsylvania town is trying to ban coal mining in a battle being played out across the state as rural communities try to assert control over mining, gas drilling and other businesses.
Attilia Shumaker, an environmental activist, stands on the porch of an abandoned house that she said was abandoned because coal mining caused the land beneath it to shift, cracking the house's foundation and basement in Blaine Township, Pennsylvania May 12, 2009. A small
Blaine Township, a community of 600 about 40 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, hopes to trigger a legal battle that could determine the rights of municipalities throughout the
Some legal experts say the township is highly unlikely to win that fight. For now the dispute is in federal district court, where major energy companies have sued the township over three ordinances that would ban coal mining and require companies in any business to disclose their activities to local officials.
Penn Ridge Coal LLC, a unit of Alliance Resource Partners, and Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co., a unit of Allegheny Energy, say
The companies say the ordinances would prevent them from mining 10.6 million tons of recoverable coal beneath the township -- enough to supply electricity for 2 million people for a year.
The township has gone further than any of the 120 U.S. municipalities -- most of them in Pennsylvania -- that have passed ordinances to curb corporate activity such as factory farming or spreading sewage sludge, said its lawyer, Tom Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund .
Of three townships sued by corporations over their ordinances, only
They want to block longwall mining, a technique that rips tons of coal from underground without putting anything in its place, causing the land above to sag. The practice, which has been used in coal-rich southwest
"It just started to drop and drop," she said. "It got so bad, you couldn't even walk in the door."
One section of her house is held up with mechanical jacks.
Blaine's three ordinances, passed in 2006, 2007 and 2008, also assert that communities have a right under the U.S. Constitution to control business within their boundaries and that corporations do not have constitutional rights as "persons" to sue municipalities for passing laws that would hurt corporate interests.
"This illegitimate bestowal of civil and political rights upon corporations prevents the administration of laws within
To implement the ordinances, township supervisors are now campaigning for "home rule," a legal code that transfers some powers from state to local control and is commonly used to raise taxes or increase the number of supervisors on a board.
ESTABLISHING HOME RULE
A third lawsuit has been brought by Range Resources, a natural gas company, asking the court to invalidate
Penn Ridge Coal and Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal are asking U.S. Judge Donetta Ambrose of the Western District of
In April, Judge Ambrose denied the township's motion to dismiss the case. She is expected to rule late this year.
Linzey predicted the case will eventually go to the
He conceded the court is unlikely to overturn more than 100 years of established law that gives corporations rights as "persons" under the constitution, but he said the expected outcome would become a springboard for a popular campaign for a constitutional amendment to strip corporations of those rights.
"Who dictates how we are going to live here?" asked Board spokesman Michael Vacca. "Should it not be us?"
(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman)
© 2009 Reuters
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