Prove your humanity

On Tuesday, Allegheny County Council upheld a ban on new fracking for natural gas in county parks, overriding County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s veto of the measure.

The bill also bans other heavy industrial activities like forestry and quarrying in county parks. It does not apply to an existing gas lease at Deer Lakes Park, but it does prevent those operations from expanding.

Fitzgerald, who has supported the industry, opposed the measure despite the fact that there are no current proposals to drill on the county land. He said that if a proposal were made in the future, it should be up to those in office at the time to decide whether to accept it.

But at a special meeting Tuesday, 12 of the council’s 15 members voted to reverse the veto. Only council’s two Republican members, Samuel DeMarco and Suzanne Filiaggi joined Democrat Nick Futules in voting to uphold the veto.

The 12 votes cast in favor of the ban exceeded the two-thirds threshold needed to overcome Fitzgerald’s opposition. In fact, they exceeded the number of votes cast for the measure when council voted for it the first time.

That’s because of a last-minute switch by council member Bob Macey, who voted against the ban in early July. On Tuesday, however, he said his constituents asked him to override the veto.

“We know that fracking will never stop,” he said, citing the ubiquity of fossil fuels in energy production and consumer products. “We also know that it can be dangerous and, in some cases, it has been dangerous and people have been harmed.”

But DeMarco called the bill “a solution in search of a problem” and “political theater.”

“It doesn’t stop anything currently proposed because there is none,” he said. “It doesn’t stop the current lease because that was previously approved. And it doesn’t stop anything in the future as the future council could pass another ordinance permitting it.”

Supporters of the ban countered that it would help protect the parks for years to come.

“I don’t want to see our parks converted into industrial waste sites as these companies exploit and degrade them,” said Amanda Waxman, one of nearly 40 people who spoke on the ban before council’s vote Tuesday. “We deserve places where we can hike, bike and run without inhaling asthma-inducing air pollutants. We deserve places where we can swim without worrying about toxic runoff. We deserve our parks to be fracking-free.”

Supporters and Opponents

Over multiple hours of public comment throughout the summer, dozens of people who spoke to council supported a ban on fracking in county parks. On Tuesday night, council heard from just over a half-dozen supporters of drilling. Many said they work in or around the natural gas industry, and cited potential economic and job benefits from fracking.

But more than 30 drilling foes turned out to urge council to override the veto. Environmental activist Eva Resnick-Day said many of the gains from fracking and other heavy industries have been temporary, and exacted high costs to residents and the environment.

“These industries come, we make a little bit of money, we ruin a lot of air and a lot of water and contribute to climate change,” she said. “And then we do it again and again and again. We have to get out of that cycle.”

Attempts to override vetos are rare, and this was council’s first success at overcoming Fitzgerald’s opposition.