Exploding gas wells, poisoned water, plummeting property value, dead fish, roadside dumping of toxic waste ... the evidence that communities are being turned into resource colonies of gas drilling corporations is everywhere.
In cahoots with the gas industry are the state lawmakers who continue to clear the way for frackers. In Pennsylvania there's a new exemption from clean air requirements, no regulation or monitoring of frack wastewater dumping in streams and rivers and a complete exemption from local control. In New York, citizens have been holding their breath waiting for the moratorium to expire and for the drilling to begin; they've been pushed out of the decision-making loop by a state preemption on local control over drilling corporations.
And here in Idaho it's the same story--state legislators and the governor have become advocates for the privileges of drilling corporations and against the rights of people. Fracking in Payette County is scheduled to begin this year.
To say the game is stacked against regular citizens would be a huge understatement. To attempt to treat only the environmental, health and economic symptoms of this problem would be a mistake: We need to cure the disease that allows these symptoms to spread unchecked but first we need to understand what the barriers are.
To regulate is to permit harmful corporate behavior in communities, whether the people want it or not, under conditions legalized by the state. Those regulations that have become law typically have been recommended, or negotiated for, by the regulated industry. Zoning, the most local of regulatory tactics, simply allows a community to decide where the fracking will occur. Zoning cannot prevent fracking--it simply allows a municipality or county to decide what parts of their locality it will surrender to the corporation.
Corporate constitutional rights are very real and very powerful. Among those corporate powers is the requirement that local governments must allow all legal uses within their communities--thus stripping away their authority to prohibit fracking. And when a community attempts to prohibit this corporate activity, corporate attorneys can sue the community, contending that the corporation's property has been taken--a violation of the corporation's Fifth Amendment rights.
In your community, who decides what is legal and what is not? Is it the people affected by governing decisions or is it someone else who calls the shots? Despite our tradition of defending the right to local self-governance as asserted in the Declaration of Independence, our local governing authority has been chipped away as more centralized control has been imposed for the purpose of protecting the privileges enjoyed by the corporate minority.
Our biggest obstacle by far is our doubt that we have the duty, the authority and the competence to assert our rights and ban fracking. Those doubts are the result of corporate-state fear tactics intended to shake our resolve and cause us to surrender our communities without a fight. We must shake off those doubts and act in cooperation and solidarity with our friends, neighbors and local governments.
So what are the options for the folks of Payette County facing the real prospect of having their environment, property values and overall quality of life damaged by fracking:
1. Do nothing ... and get fracked. The question is: Although you have the freedom to decide for yourself, do you have the liberty to surrender your community today to the detriment of future generations?
2. Try to use existing law to protect your community ... and get fracked. The stacked-deck of regulatory law offers no protection for your community from fracking.
3. Act on the knowledge that you have unalienable rights to local self-governance.
By choosing to do nothing or trying to use existing law you surrender your rights without a fight and getting fracked is a certainty. Through local law-making, communities are putting in place bans on corporate drilling and fracking and are challenging existing structures of law that override local democratic decision making and violate community rights.
More than 20 communities in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York and West Virginia have chosen option three. They are considering or have passed binding local law that recognizes the right to local self-government, the right to clean water, the rights of the environment and have banned fracking as an activity that would violate those rights. Will Payette County join the fight?
Kai Huschke is a community organizer with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in Spokane, Wash.