First Community in the U.S. to ban fracking, recognize rights of nature, subordinate corporations to the people by popular vote

November 8, 2011
CONTACT: Ben Price, (717) 254-3233


(Tuesday, November 8, 2011)  By a vote of 72% in favor, the people of the Borough of State College, home of Penn State University, adopted an amendment to their home rule charter that constitutionalizes a Local Bill of Rights, and protects those rights by prohibiting natural gas extraction and associated activities.

The amendment was proposed through a petitioning process conducted by residents of the Borough, led byGroundswell: A Local Environmental Rights Initiative (, in accordance with state law.

The new addition to State College’s home rule charter is titled “State College Borough Bill of Rights,” and it establishes enforceable legal protections, including a right to water, a right to clean air, a right to the peaceful enjoyment of home, rights of natural communities, the right to a sustainable energy future, the right to local self-government, and the right to use the municipal government to legislate to protect rights. The amendment also asserts that these rights are “self-executing” and that they are “enforceable against corporations and governmental entities.”

The last section of the amendment establishes certain prohibitions “to further secure and protect the rights enumerated by the Bill of Rights,” including:

  • Criminalizing the extraction of natural gas within the Borough, with the exception of gas wells installed and operating at the time of enactment of the amendment.
  • Making it unlawful within the Borough to deposit, store or transport “frack” water, brine or other by-products from the unconventional development of natural gas from shale formations.
  • Prohibiting the creation of fossil fuel, nuclear or other non-sustainable energy production and delivery infrastructures, such as pipelines, processing facilities, compressors, or storage and transportation facilities of any sort that would violate the right to a sustainable energy future for State College Borough.

There are legal consequences for violating these prohibitions – and for violating the rights of the community members. The amendment asserts that:

  • Corporations and persons using corporations to engage in natural gas extraction in a neighboring municipality, county or state shall be strictly liable for all harms caused to natural water sources, ecosystems human and natural communities within the Borough of State College.
  • Corporations in violation of the prohibition against natural gas extraction, or seeking to engage in natural gas extraction shall not have the rights of “persons” afforded by the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions, nor shall those corporations be afforded the protections of the commerce or contracts clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
  • Corporations engaged in the extraction of natural gas shall not possess the authority or power to enforce State or federal preemptive law against the people of State College Borough, or to challenge or overturn municipal ordinances or Charter provisions adopted by the State College Borough Council.
  • Permits, licenses, privileges or corporate charters which would violate the prohibitions of the amendment or deprive any Borough resident, natural community, or ecosystem of any rights secured by the amendment, the Pennsylvania Constitution, the United States Constitution, or other laws, will be invalid within the Borough.

Finally, the amendment includes a severability clause, which means that if any part of the amendment is overturned by a court of law the unchallenged sections of the amendment and the rest of the home rule charter will remain intact.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, headquartered in Mercersburg, has been working with people in Pennsylvania since 1995 to assert their fundamental rights to democratic local self-governance, and to enact laws which end destructive and rights-denying corporate action aided and abetted by state and federal governments.

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