DALLAS — A group of residents concerned about natural gas-related activity in the county are asking council to consider a measure they believe would help protect people’s health and the environment.
They are drafting a proposed Luzerne County Bill of Rights, with help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, that will give residents more say in major projects, including natural gas-related activity.
Plymouth Township resident Dave Thomas approached Luzerne County Council last Tuesday to make a formal request to give a 20-minute presentation on the proposed Bill of Rights.
“You have the power under home rule to adopt a charter amendment to add a Luzerne County bill of rights to the home rule charter that ensures the citizens of Luzerne County, among other things, the right to local self-government, the right to pure water, the right to clean air, to be free from chemical trespass, and the right that the individual is superior to that of the corporation,” Thomas told council.
Luzerne County Council Chairman Rick Morelli asked Thomas to send him a copy of the proposal and he would distribute it to other council members.
Morelli said Monday he hasn’t received anything yet.
A community “bill of rights,” which would have to be approved by Luzerne County voters, spells out what residents are entitled to, such as water, clean air and self-government, and would hold corporations accountable.
“This is something we’ve been working on for quite a while now, the past six or seven months,” Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition member Scott Cannon said.
He said the bill of rights states that “we, the people of Luzerne County, have our needs met over the corporate needs.”
It would not necessarily ban natural gas-related infrastructure, such as if a development in Dallas wanted to have gas put in, Cannon said.
But it would set standards for such things as natural gas gathering lines, compressor stations, metering stations, gate stations and frack water treatment plants, he said.
“We don’t deserve to be treated like this by the gas industry. We’re not a chemical dump, and we don’t want to be treated like one,” Cannon said. “We can’t let other people decide what’s best for us in our county.”
Cannon said the goal is to protect residents from having to fight controversial battles over and over.
Although members of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, including current President Al Rodriguez, worked on the bill of rights, Thomas said it is not a GDAC initiative.
Thomas said the issue is self-government: People have the right to determine what they want in their community. And the bill is not just gas- and oil- related — it would apply to any exploitative industry, he said.
Thomas said the bill of rights will be compatible with the county’s home rule charter. Under the charter, it couldn’t have exclusionary zoning, meaning it can’t prohibit any kind of use; there has to be an allowance made, even if restricted to one kind of zone. Community bills of rights are not zoning ordinances.
Rodriguez said natural-gas related activities can be done safely — the companies have to pay the price. They won’t be able to cut corners and compromise safety.
“We just want to protect all the citizens,” Rodriguez said.