Blaine Township is a small rural township some 45 miles west of Pittsburgh, in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The population was 597 at the 2000 census. The racial makeup of the township is overwhelmingly Caucasian, and the majority live in Taylorstown, a one stop sign town. There’s total of 22 square miles within the municipality, Although Blaine is dotted with farms, a lot were taken when a proposed power plant bought them up and tore them down. People moved away, then after the state bought up this land for gaming, other folks moved here for the quality of life. There is old growth forest here. The township is a haven to sportsmen of all stripe, fishermen, birders, people who come to train their dogs for hunting, and the fees paid by hunters are a major source of income.
Blaine is crossed by Buffalo Creek, a high quality perennial stream that flows into West Virginia and dumps into the Ohio River. Its banks are scented by wildflowers and pervaded by the sounds of crickets and cicadas, and spanning the creek is the historic SAW HILL covered bridge, made of red wooden slats. A mile and a half down the road lies a revolutionary fort called Williamson’s station.
Western Pennsylvania has been mining coal for 250 years, but no mining has occurred in Blaine and its residents and township supervisors aim to keep it that way.
Environmental assault threatens community: LONG WALL MINING APPROACHES BLAINE
The Pittsburgh coal seam, of which the Buffalo reserve is a part, lies directly beneath Blaine. The rights to this coal were purchased by coal companies over a hundred years ago. It was put like this: We’re going to give you money for something we’re probably not going to come for in your lifetime. In a poor county, few passed up an offer like that.
Sometime around 2002, Blaine Township resident and planning board member Michael Vacca became aware that the Consol Energy company wanted to mine in Blaine. Neighboring communities were experiencing one of the newest trends in coal removal – long wall coal mining. Far down below, a machine with shields moves across the face of the coal, grinding it up at tremendous speed. The earth drops three to six feet after the machines come through, which is called subsidence. Michael saw that long wall mining was leaving decimated communities in its wake – aquifers dewatered, streams and rivers destroyed, historic buildings sunk into the ground, and wells replaced with gray plastic tanks of water, called ‘water buffaloes.’” Some folks in Blaine had relatives or friends who had the experience of being mined, devastated and then left to deal with the consequences.
Muscular iconoclast, with long sandy hair and a goatee, Michael Vacca looks like he might have stepped out of a book about the Wild West. He pours cement for a living and does not call himself an activist or an environmentalist even though much of his time is spent organizing his own and surrounding communities, as well as in efforts to protect and conserve the nature around him. He’s a can-do kind of guy, knowledgeable and practical. When he bought his house 30 years ago, he planted trees to shelter the place from sun and wind and snow. He also built 6 windmills, so that he could be independent from the grid.
He deeply cares about the place that supports his life. He knows his area is the last contiguous forested flood plane in Washington county. It’s critical habitat for neo-tropical migrating birds. The pristine watershed has not been affected by storm water runoff, and is home to many creatures which only breed in high quality water, certain salamanders for instance. There is no public water, so everyone draws water from the ground. The clean stream act says nobody is permitted to destroy water and not restore it to its original state. But a lot of times their fix involves pouring concrete, which means that mosses, ponds, the web of stream life and habitat are lost. Sometimes their “reclamation” is to run a pipe from another stream and pump the water down the crick, from the stream it was supposed to flow into. But the fact is, they have destroyed the headwaters.
Michael Vacca is proudly computer illiterate. He spent months searching the old fashioned way, going to libraries, copying things, sending away for this or that. There’s ample information out there that documents the effects of long wall mining. He learned that in the 1990’s, the State changed the mining laws. *****Up until then, surface subsidence from underground mining was an unintended impact, but after the mining laws were amended, subsidence was built into the actual permits, legalizing it. This sort of thing is nothing new to Western Pennsylvania. In this area, as they say, coal is king.
MICHAEL VACCA: It seemed we had no choice in the matter and that the only thing we could do was try to make this as least invasive as possible. Coalfield environmental activist groups advised us to appeal the permits issued by the Department, to at least get a better deal on oil, gas, and coal leases. I knew from my own past experience this was going to fail.
Environmental assault threatens community in the past.
Michael is referring to the time in 1999, when Allegheny Power wanted to build a power plant in the beautiful valley 7/10 of a mile down the road from Blaine Township’s Saw Hill Bridge. The county lifted the covered bridge off its moorings and placed steel beams underneath it, so that it would be ready to carry truck traffic and construction workers, which is how residents found out about the plans. That was a big eye opener, how both county and state agencies knew for years but did give the residents a heads up. Their own state legislators had courted the lobbyists. This was in the 90’s during the emergence of the merchant energy market and the planned operation would not service Blaine or help locally, but sell to whomever across the country would pay the highest price to the energy brokers. Michael realized that the people living here would be the ones left holding the bag of nasty consequences.
Department of Environmental Protection issues permits and it became clear there was little protection and much “permitting” of environmental harm. So Michael formed a group to fight the power plant through the regulatory system. They raised funds, engaged an attorney and biologists to study the area. They applied for designation as Important Bird Area with the Audubon society. An archeologist was asked to research whether Williamson Station could be placed on the list of historic sites.
Group forms to fight corporate threat through the regulatory system.
They wanted to document their area, not only so they could keep track of what they had and could lose, but to show the value of the area to its own citizens. Micheal thought this might help thwart the onslaught of Allegheny Energy. They succeeded in getting designated as Important Bird Area. They knew that IBA status would not stop development in and of itself, but thought of it as another brick in the bulwark being constructing against the power plant.
They had planned for big push in commonwealth court, but were not allowed to even introduce these studies in their case. They petitioned the court for a hearing to show how the power plant would directly impact lifestyle, water, roads. But they were not allowed to talk about environmental impacts. After they lost locally, they appealed and went to commonwealth court and lost there and were faced with appealing it again. Costs were mounting however and the group was breaking apart. In the end they got lucky. The merchant market suddenly stopped its expansion and Allegheny went away after selling the land to the game commission. Michael says that if Enron hadn’t collapsed, there would be a power plant sitting in the beautiful valley burning coal right now. After that, Michael Vacca decided to become a member of the planning commission, thinking this might help him see how to stop this kind of thing before it starts. He discovered that the State municipal code demands we make an allowance for any kind of development.
MICHEAL VACCA: We can not say no. And these coal corporations wrote the mining laws, so that the regulations allow them to do what they want. Since most of the subsurface mineral rights had already been bought, they were done deals from a lease standpoint. The best the other townships could do was to raise the fees, to try to get a higher price. But to me this is place is priceless.
* * * *
Another local resident with a home and land she considers priceless is Karen Duerr, an appealing young woman with long dark hair and brown eyes who exudes calm.
She has lived all of her 27 years in an old brick farmhouse with a lovely front porch and a number of out buildings, including an ancient silo. Chickens chase their baby chicks around the yard. The land stretches for 100 acres, and is bordered on one edge by Buffalo Creek. Karen and her family grow and harvest hay, part of which they keep for their own animals, the rest of which they sell to local farmers.
Her home, like many other brick houses in this area, has a very old foundation, which doesn’t take well to subsidence. She knows that if long wall mining happens, it would crumble and make it unsafe to live in. Because the mining company knows the water supply will be messed up, they pull the piping and bring in a water buffalos. They got the name water buffalo because they look like a huge grey hump in the yard. Karen is also concerned for the neighboring farmers who have springs for their cows. They know that in the mined areas to the south, many farmers have had to truck in water for their animals. If they mine underneath Buffalo Creek, it would kill the fish. The animals that use it to drink would have to go elsewhere. People swim in this creek and fish for bass. As a little girl, she was always down at the creek. Her parents would have to come get her when it was dark because she didn’t want to leave.
KAREN DUERR: I’ve lived here my whole life. My parents live here. This is my home and I don’t want to see it destroyed. I was tired of complaining about it and wanted to do something, but didn’t know what. I already knew the regulatory process didn’t work from watching my fathes fight Pennzoil for years.
Karen’s activism is inspired by her father, who dreamed of being a farmer while growing up in the heavily polluted Pittsburgh. As an adult he was able to buy their place in the township. Driving the tractor made him happy, but he cared for more than just his own land and became a township supervisor, working to make conservation a reality. This brought him into battle with the Pennzoil Company. She remembers her father going to meeting after meeting. Pennzoil owns the rights to the oil under the farms. This fact was brought home in tangible way when the company reopened two old wells on her family’s property. They didn’t protect our land from loss of topsoil, so their hillside eroded. They put a driveway through our pasture. They could complain, but not say no as the company had a right of way. In their area petroleum leaked into the ground water and water supplies. In order to stop this, those afflicted have to prove it’s happening, which requires constant testing by scientists, which is expensive. And contamination was demonstrated, they were told that they had no proof it was the company’s activity that created it. They had lawyers on staff whose job to throw doubt on the findings and then they claim the company is being discriminated against. They raised more money to fight the battle and in the end they lost
KAREN DUERR: At the time of course I didn’t know what was the basis these corporations keep winning on. It would be crazy to think that we would win a regulatory battle this time. Until recently I thought it would be impossible to stop them. Then Michael Vacca came over and invited us to attend a democracy school. I was cynical at that point, but I trusted Michael.
Group turns to CELDF – to help fight assault
In his work on the planning board, Michael Vacca had started to update and upgrade the Blaine Township zoning ordinance. He figured that if they couldn’t stop the mining, they could at least try to get it to cause the least amount of damage. He was looking for the most restrictive language that would pass “legal muster,” when someone referred him to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. He called and had a long talk with Thomas Linzey.
Michael said to Thomas that Article I of the Penn constitution — people’s right to clean air and water shall not be infringed –doesn’t mean shit if you’re dealing with the Department of Environmental Protection and the courts. Thomas asked him a question: “If the regulatory and land use laws can’t stop the mining, why not pioneer a new structure of law that will?”
The first democracy school was held in Blaine in 2006.
Michael realized they needed to get educated, so he committed to getting 20 people into the school. He made a short order list of people he knew, people of integrity and intelligence, some farmers, current supervisors and past, planning commission members. He offered them total access to the studies, the video about long wall mining. Sometimes he watched it with them and he found that effective. One of the people he connected with was Fred Cramer.
FRED CRAMER: My home is 156 yrs old; it will be destroyed if it is mined. I will lose everything I came to Blaine township for: my quality of life, my retirement, my life savings, everything. And Blaine township will lose its emergency water supply, which happens to be my pond.
Democracy School education of group leads to new understanding of root cause of problem.
The three day democracy school was an eye opener for all the people who attended, even for those like Michael Vacca, who considers himself a bit of a history buff. All were sobered when they learned about how the constitution was written — behind closed doors by 39 white men of property, who represented their interests in the document at the expense of the rights and interests of 90 percent of the people. In fact, rather than trusting people to self-govern, many of our founding fathers didn’t trust the people, believing, as James Madison did, that monarchy was the best form of government.
On the second day of the school, participants learned what they call the “hidden histories” which is “all the things we’re not taught in school.” The school delves into those judicial interpretations, which lead to the establishing of corporate personhood, which resulted in the Bill of Rights protecting corporations from people. This helps people understand why in a supposed democracy, the people of Blaine can’t decide that long wall mining is too destructive to the local environment and their own lives and economy and therefore should not happen in their Township.
Many participants In Democracy School knew that the 14th amendment, “No state shall any state abridge rights of any person,” was passed to guarantee the rights of the recently freed slaves. What many didn’t know is that back in the late 1800s however, that amendment was applied to the railroad corporations in a case at the Supreme Court. This happened when the railroads were given a lot of land by the federal government to build their tracks. The counties they were building them through weren’t getting any benefit, rather they were putting up with damages. So these communities wanted to tax the railroad companies, who in turn took them to court. The Supreme Court ruled in Santa Clara County vs Southern Pacific Railroad that “we’re all of the opinion that the 14th Amendment does apply to the corporation”, that one corporation can’t be taxed unless others are being taxed at the same time. Thus they gave the equal protection of 14th amendment to corporations.
What this does in essence is give an entity of property human rights. And since then, corporations have used for example, the 1st amendment right not to speak, by not having labels on cartons and the 4th amendment, which is the right of the people to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure, has been applied as the right for a corporation to have no surprise inspections. And on and on.
KAREN DUERR: When I attended Democracy School, I learned a lot that I didn’t learn during my years of education. I didn’t know that corporations are considered persons in the eyes of the law. It made me understand finally why it was my family couldn’t say no to Pennzoil.
More problematic still is the fact that while corporations possess the same rights under the Constitution as you and I, they are however not legally bound to respect people’s constitutional rights. This is so because constitutional rights were written to shield people from invasive governmental action (e.g., the First Amendment, “Congress shall pass no law….”), and not corporate action. Because corporate decision makers are not governmental officials, corporations cannot be sued for violating a person’s constitutional rights.
Among the 20 people attending the school were Blaine Township’s three supervisors, Scott Weiss, Darlene Dutton and Jim McElheny.
SCOTT WEISS: What I thought was shocking was that corporations are seen as people. They’re using our own amendments against us.
DARLENE DUTTON: This country has devalued me as a human being in relation to corporations. They have given these things the same rights that people have, and these rights end up trumping ours. We need to say enough is enough. We start small and we start changing this country. After going to the democracy school, there’s hope. We can fight this.
In Democracy School they also learned about the commerce clause and how it’s applied. Communities are not allowed to inhibit commerce and just about anything can be defined as commerce.
The Constitution’s “Commerce Clause” enables corporations to sue local and state governments when those governments adopt laws seeking to control or regulate commerce. This is used quite frequently, like when Waste Management Corporation sued and overturned Virginia’s out-of-state waste ban in the 1990’s, or when agribusiness corporations sued and overturned laws adopted by people in South Dakota, and Nebraska which banned corporations from engaging in farming. This structure of law prevents people from implementing our visions of environmentally and economically sustainable communities.
Group decides on a new rights based course of organizing
On the third day of the school, there’s time dedicated to discussing what’s next. In the conversation among the Blaine citizens, the idea that had the most weight for all participating was: Who decides what’s going to happen in Blaine?
Michael Vacca: We had sample ordinances from CELDF. We examined the language contained in them. We were asking real specific questions. What we liked about these ordinances was that they gave the power to the people. They are rights based. Those of us who live and pay taxes here, would be exercising our right to decide.
Who are these supervisors who were willing to go out on a limb? They are not your traditional activists, but they are true public servants, willing to put themselves on the line for those they represent. And they are willing to think outside the box.
In the middle, Scott Weiss, Chairman of supervisors, manager of a testing company. He has lived in Blaine Township for 30yrs and was elected in 2002. Scott is bright and energetic, the father of two daughters: It’s been a roller coast but I’ll probably do it again.
Darlene Dutton, vice-chair is a Recovery Room nurse, a Mom and a Grandmother, who is currently starting a business. She ran for supervisor in 2004.
Jim McElheny has been a truck driver and a minister, and now he’s retired, is taking care of his grandkids. He has been active for years, serving as a supervisor for three.
Supervisors are responsible not only for the fiscal operations of the township, the township roads, and maintaining order, but also for the direction the community’s going to go. The direction these supervisors want to take their rural community in, now with the state game lands, is to promote outdoor activities. They have a freshwater creek, some old forest, an aviary, a lot of wildlife and this is exactly the type of community they want to maintain. When they became supervisor, each had to take an oath to look after the welfare of the township and its people.
When the coal company started encroaching in the surrounding communities, they knew it was just a matter of time. Two of the three stand to lose personally. Jim’s well serves 4 different families and he’ll probably lose it along with his house. Scott will lose his water also, as well as sustain other damage – which is why he tells those who will listen that the inventors of this technology in Germany banned it within their own country.
Darlene used to think maybe the mining could be regulated and controlled. Then she started seeing evidence all around her to the contrary. She has realized you “get what you try to regulate.” The supervisors know they have to think innovatively. What the supervisors have seen is that the majority of people don’t get motivated until they’ve lost what they hold dear. As elected supervisors they have to have the foresight, because they can’t stop it after the water’s gone. They decided to be proactive to prevent this loss of property, of water and habitat.
Group codifies this new vision into laws or legal structures
The supervisors brainstormed and asked Thomas Linzey to write an ordinance that banned long wall mining. The language came from all who were present during the discussions. Folks agreed they wanted to start with citing their authority as being from the Declaration of Independence. They also quoted the Pennsylvania constitution, Article 1, section 2, which declares that all power is inherent in the people.
Basically the ordinance said that to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the township, no corporation had the right to come and mine within our boundaries. Protecting the township included the nature within it. This was part of the comprehensive plan of the supervisors, to identify what Blaine was and protect it. And what they are is based in their ecosystems.
The ORDINANCE’s introduction:
AN ORDINANCE TO PROTECT THE HEALTH, SAFETY AND GENERAL WELFARE OF THE CITIZENS AND NATURAL ENVIRONMENT OF BLAINE TOWNSHIP BY BANNING CORPORATIONS FROM ENGAGING IN MINING WITHIN THE TOWNSHIP; BY BANNING CORPORATE OWNERSHIP OF LAND AND MINERAL ESTATES USED FOR MINING WITHIN THE TOWNSHIP; BY BANNING PERSONS FROM USING CORPORATIONS TO ENGAGE IN MINING; BY BANNING THE EXERCISE OF CERTAIN POWERS BY MINING CORPORATIONS; BY RECOGNIZING THE RIGHTS OF ECOSYSTEMS AND NATURAL COMMUNITIES AND BY PROVIDING FOR ENFORCEMENT OF THOSE RIGHTS.
Representatives support new structures.
Once the supervisors got a document they were satisfied with, they had a unanimous vote to advertise it. At that point Michael spent some time fielding questions from other Blaine residents about whether this had been done in other communities and if so, how successfully? Michael was able to get information from CELDF about the townships that had passed similar kinds of ordinances, and learned that where activities had been banned in this manner, they had succeeded. He made cold calls, asking folks if he could come over and have a conversation with them. Being a Blaine resident for so long helped him connect with people. Karen Duerr and other active Blaine residents made sure to go to all the meetings and spread the word further in the township. A lot of folks still didn’t know what was going on, but got involved after being personally contacted and invited to the meetings.
Then they held a meeting for public comment. Due to the large amount of interest, they had to move the town meeting to the Church. Everybody got the opportunity to speak. Most people judged the ordinances a good thing. Most were thankful that the supervisors were standing up for the environment. Folks said things like: Somebody’s gotta do it, it’s about time. The citizenry were concerned about infrastructure problems, as they paid good money for their wells and septic systems.
There were only two persons who spoke against, one guy from the coal company, and the attorney who said they would be challenged. The coal man basically threatened the supervisors, saying, you will be challenged and you will lose and you will be hit with huge fines. So the supervisors had to prepare themselves, not only for a possible suit against the Township, but also that they could be sued personally. The support CELDF offers is also reassuring. Not that they’re thrilled at the thought of a personal lawsuit, but it helps that the supervisors have day jobs, thus they are not threatened to lose their livelihood. All three supervisors derive strength from their family’s support and from their faith.
DARLENE DUTTON: We’ll deal with whatever they bring on. The support of my friends and family gives me strength, but my faith is first.
SCOTT WEISS: It also helps that we are united and have a lot of respect for each other. We’re not going to let them divide the three of us.
Scott proposed the motion, Darlene seconded, and all were in favor.
Community Passes Ordinances into Local Law
They passed the ordinance in December, 2006, unanimously. Then, realizing that this ordinance could not stand alone if it came to a challenge, they passed a second ordinance stripping corporations of the right to be considered persons. In essence this removes legal powers and privileges from corporations at the municipal level. Declaring that corporations do not possess certain constitutional protections, creates a protective barrier for their underlying substantive ordinance dealing with the coal mining threat.
Console Coal in the meantime, had been doing all sorts of things to curry favor in the community, like building a Ballpark. They have lots of advertising on TV now about how great “clean” coal is. While most experts agree that there’s no such thing, yet, because the technology has not been developed, Blaine’s residents know that the process of extracting the coal is in itself destructive.
OBSTACLE: coal company propaganda.
DARLENE DUTTON: My grandchildren brought home these coloring books from school. Frosty the snowman with coal eyes coloring pages. A father and mother thanking power rock (coal) for electricity. It introduces the kids to all the terms used in mining and how it powers your video games. But they don’t show how there’s no more water!
Scott Weiss deplores the propaganda because it makes a real conversation even more difficult. We all like air conditioning but there are costs to what we like. There were comments in the paper along the lines of who are you to prevent us from making money off of this. But someone’s ability to make a million dollars off their house or a billion from a coal mine does not give them the right to take someone else’s water. As supervisors they have to look at the community as a whole and be suspicious of this notion that opposing long wall mining is standing in the path of progress and energy.
Right now the coal companies are using the high price of oil to justify what they’re doing, but they’ll destroy eco-systems, homes and communities and justify themselves by claiming this is a necessary sacrifice for the greater good. The whole notion of a sacrifice zone is suspect when the people in the zone have no say.
KAREN DUERR: It’s about our voice. Democracy means having a voice in the decisions that affect you. We know there’s going to be a fight, that we’re going to go to court. If we don’t fight them, they’re going to come anyway, so what do we have to lose? And if we stand up and win some of these cases, then we’ll have a precedent.
MICHAEL VACCA: In the end, you have to call it like it is. Are we going to prostitute ourselves? For what are we willing to sell ourselves, our land, our water?
RIGHTS OF NATURE:
At what cost does a society use ever more electricity? Neither community members, nor the nature that supports community life, have any say. In Blaine Township, the ordinance gives nature the right to exist, and to be protected. That’s one of the things that came out of the discussion in Democracy School.
THOMAS LINZEY: The suffragists and the abolitionists were running up against a structure of law that would not allow them to make the changes they needed. Until 1920, rape was “property damage.” Until slavery was abolished, a slave master could not be punished for whipping a slave, because that slave was his property, and he had the right to damage it. Under our constitution you’re either a person or you’re property. What movements do is move and transform that. We won’t have a real environmental movement in this country until we realize that nature has rights.
Group continues organizing, expanding education, deepening commitment
Once the ordinance passed, the next phase of the work began. Michael Vacca and local residents Jim Powell and Fred Cramer formed the Buffalo Creek Conservation association. Their hope was that other communities facing the same threat would be willing to empower themselves by passing ordinances of their own, so that they’d have the strength of a region doing it instead of a township. They typed up a letter to the other townships in Washington County, to tell them mining was coming, and about the Blaine ordinance. They got themselves on the township agendas. Michael
has attended 22 different township meetings to talk about the ordinances, inviting them to come talk to the folks in Blaine but there have been few takers.
As they try to organize, they find maybe the biggest OBSTACLE is people’s resignation. Mineral extraction has been going on so long, and with it, degradation not only of the environment but of people’s ability to imagine a better future. 25 years ago they couldn’t just take the coal under someone’s house. Then the economic hit men said let’s change that. Then the energy act of 2005 exempted drilling companies from the clean air and water act. So it’s a slow methodical death by a thousand cuts.
JIM POWELL: People have that classic response: you can’t win, this is the way it’s been, this is the way it’s going to be, don’t ask me to help. That is a very significant ball and chain to dislodge, to get people to stick their head out of the box, when they’re used to getting whacked and have become accepting of their fate.
Michael finds the media another OBSTACLE in spreading the word. There’s been a lot of propaganda, but Michael believes that if people can take the time to educate themselves, they’ll make the right decisions. However they don’t get good information from the media in general, because it has a pro-industry bias, and industry loves to pit labor against the environment.
MICHAEL VACCA: It’s hard to get past the jobs thing; that used to be an almost insurmountable obstacle. A miner would say, sure, take my job off the table.
In some communities the mine has been the main source of jobs for a long time, so it’s built into the culture. It helped Michael a lot to read Richard Grossman’s FEAR AT WORK. Now he can explain how companies use the threat of job loss as a ploy to fight environmental protection. As a union member and laborer himself, Michael can be heard when he explains that it’s a choice to use long wall mining, which is all about having little overhead, Bbroom and pillar mining being much more labor intensive. Proponents of fossil fuels boast of job creation, but the number of jobs in dirty energy is declining. To wit: Over the last two decades, coal output in the US has grown by a third, while the number of jobs in the coal industry has fallen by half. And long wall mining will take away other, more sustainable jobs, like farming. A family farm can’t function without water. But in the end, this is not about stopping mining, it’s about who gets to decide. If a community wants to have this kind of mining, then that’s their right.
MICHAEL VACCA: Really it’s all about having a conversation. Talking seems to be the only way we can get people informed and ready to make a change. You have to find the things you have in common. It’s not like I had activism lessons but this has made me realize how much I have learned.
Michael and Jim Powell met with the folks in Buffalo Township many times. There was interest but they were put on hold. They’ve had a one day Democracy School in Green County, where folks from five different communities came. But it’s hard to say whether these townships will take up the fight.
One that did at first was Donegal Township. A large body of people there opposed mining, and their three supervisors attended a Democracy School but few others from their community did, which was cause for alarm. It’s important that enough members of the community fully understand and support the effort. Then Donegal’s solicitor advised them against it, not surprising as often a solicitor’s success is measured by his or her ability to keep the community out of court. Unfortunately, the supervisors thought that by passing the ordinances they would be secure. When the township got sued by coal companies, and the insurance company that underwrites Donegal Township, threatened to withdraw coverage, the supervisors rescinded the ordinances.
MICHAEL VACCA: Seeing how things failed in Donegal Township, was a good thing in a way, because we’ve put ourselves in a position to be more prepared.
LESSONS LEARNED: to look at whatever happens as an opportunity to analyze how to be more effective. To organize for the long-term, realizing education is an on-going process.
Group Prepares for Suits
For this organizing to be successful, a critical mass has to occur, which means a majority of the township standing behind the effort to pass these laws if they are challenged. Some folks may not grasp that these ordinances are new laws that go against state law and they are going to be challenged. The ordinances are written a certain way for a reason, so that whenever they’re challenged, the state is going to have to state it flat out in writing, that “we the people” do not have the right to govern ourselves.
MICHAEL VACCA: There’s victory in the challenge. I can tell you that the regulatory fight is one that citizens will never win. With local governance, you pick the fight, you pick the best ground, the high ground. If you choose to govern yourselves, you’re making your stand on your own terms as opposed to going begging at a DEP hearing. This is the stuff the American Revolution left unfinished. We owe it to those people to finish the job.