Pittsburgh is the first major U.S. city to adopt a rights-based ordinance that includes the legal rights for nature.

Global Exchange’s Community Rights Program has been working to expand rights-based organizing in California by working with communities to embrace ordinances like the one that was recently passed in Pittsburgh.  One such is Mt. Shasta, CA where GX continues to support an ordinance that would put the interests of the community above those of corporate cloud seeders and water bottlers.  Our long time partner, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) drafted this first ever ordinance that will stop harmful gas drilling within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Passed unanimously by the city council this week, the ordinance was sponsored by Councilman Doug Shields who sees beyond the single-issue of drilling.  He says, “It’s about our authority as a community to decide, not corporations deciding for us.”

The largest source of domestic natural gas in the United States, the Marcellus Shale geological formation sits a mile below the city… an energy company’s gold mine. The ordinance bans the new practice of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing, which essentially injects toxic chemical laced water underground to create explosions that release the gas. Fracking contaminates groundwater, local rivers and streams, along with many other negative impacts to the community. Because “regulating” or lessening the harm will never solve the problem, Pittsburgh has gone to the root cause; they do not want drilling at all. While Pittsburgh’s issue differs from Mt. Shasta there is the same underlying problem: who decides–communities or corporations?  Read here for more on what the ordinance does in an article from YES! Magazine http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/pittsburg-bans-natural-gas-drilling

The ordinance is also the first in the nation to recognize the legally binding rights of nature. Nature and the resources it offers has for too long been seen as property. And damage done is only gauged by human impact.  Drilling, for example, could only be challenged by its harm to humans; not the water, land, and animals that it violates. By seeing nature as more than a means to an end, but rather for its innate right to exist the city is protecting the ecosystems and natural communities by which it relies on and residents are empowered by this ordinance to enforce those rights.

Communities like Pittsburgh are discovering their lack of decision-making power in their own communities and are taking a stand through a rights-based approach.  Pittsburgh’s ability to take on corporate injustice says a lot about the future of communities to truly stop unwanted harm rather than just postpone it.  Buffalo, NY is considering adopting a similar ordinance.

For more information on rights-based work in California please contact Shannon Biggs, Director of Community Rights Program at GX shannon@globalexchange.org or to find out more about Pittsburgh contact Ben Price at benprice@celdf.org

Written by Juli Stelmaszyk