Monday, August 8, 2011

Mayor "Withholding Signature" on Marcellus Drilling Ban Referendum

MAD UPDATES, see below.

... effectively smothering it*, by means of running out the clock.

I have several reasons for this action. Chief among them is the message that we are sending when we are essentially blocking an industry from investing in our City and region. Additionally, legal concerns have been raised about the language proposed by this ordinance and I have reservations about incorporating a drilling ban into our City's Home Rule Charter. On top of these standing issues I must note my grave concern for the expedited process that was utilized as the state-created statutory timeframe for referenda neared. (Mayor Ravenstahl)

The line for scheduling gas extraction industry events begins to the left; for opening corporate headquarters, to the right.

MUCH MORE: City Paper Slag Heap.

*-UPDATE: Or not; see P-G Early Returns. Council's majority in favor of the ban may try to obviate the deadline by means of sending an "interim letter" to the county Elections Division. Of course the County Executive is chairman of the Board of Elections and no fan of the referendum either.

SO MUCH MORE: Slag Heap. And. There is yet another possible outlandishly contentious world developing: one in which the County Elections Division, on the advice of its Law Department, rejects the attempt to put the referendum on the ballot for either process or specifically inherent concerns. City Council's issue-specific supermajority then appeals that ruling in Common Pleas court. Since the City's Law Department is already conflicted (having spoken already on the issue) Council would have to hire an attorney for this task -- by interim approval of course, during the recess -- and at a weird time to do such a thing to boot. The judge would then invite objectors against this appeal to the bench -- the most conspicuously aggrieved of which during this process might be our Mayor himself, inasmuch as his Charter-given prerogative to smother legislation for the good of the City would be under challenge.

Talk about your blazes of glory.

**-UPDATE (Orange): The Allegheny County Elections Division does in fact deny the drill ban referendum, stating that the bill was not made a valid ordinance by the deadline, and that the interim approval is "legally inconsequential". The letter is silent on the matter of the propriety of the ballot question at issue. In related news, the Elections Division officially approved the library funding property tax referendum.

Later came this Facebook posting from Councilman Shields, which does not make a legal challenge sound particularly likely:


  1. Good for the mayor. Despite the fact that he is personally a complete moron, this is the correct position.

  2. Probably for the best to let it die quietly on a packed news day. If not the best, the cheapest.

  3. This is what I meant by cheapest. Really, if you have to bring in 18 lawyers after you pass a law, you may or may not be on the right track. If you need them before you pass the law, you've fracked-up.

  4. I hope everyone understands that while they diddle around with an ill-fated frack ban, the Pension Debacle is sitting athwart the road in September. Doesn't seem like anyone in Council has been thinking about that since last NYE. The Employment for Shields in 2012 Campaign is going to splat into that like a festering tomato.

  5. That is why Shields has abandoned local politics for non-stop environmental rabble-rousing. Would the majority of council really hire lawyers to pass something that has no functional purpose, and is easily overturned?

  6. The issue does have some popular popularity.

    I think part of what is being sought-after by the advocates is to have an election out there, on the public record, in which the gas companies lose by something shocking like 40 points.

    I can't say for certain Council would lawyer up -- that's just conjecture, based on the likelihood that a rejection by the County would not be held as highly disinterested. Of course, maybe this is something CELDF would pursue gratis.

  7. Dougie role plays as a lawyer!!!Maybe council
    can hire him in January!!

  8. All politics. If council and Doug were serious about this effort they would have passed the bill earlier.

  9. What I find especially troubling about all of this is that the law itself appears very badly written. It is explicit in denying corporations any of the rights that they receive under the US and PA constitutions. When you consider that the original law passed unanimously, one has to wonder if council is serious about restricting shale drilling or just wants to send a message? Indeed the law doesn't even contain a severability clause so if one part of it is ever struck down by legal challenge the whole of the law goes with it.

    The city would be be left with no legal protections at all governing the extraction of shale gas.

    The real question should be, why would a man who wanted to be judge put so much effort into a piece of legislation that is so corrosive to the existing legal protections? Doesn't this impugn his qualifications for such an office?

  10. @ Steel City Mud --

    Actually, the original ordinance passed by city council DOES have a severability clause. You're right that the referendum language doesn't, but the charter itself already has a severability clause attached to it. So it's not necessary to add another clause here. Doing so would be redundant ... though as we're seeing, council doesn't necessarily fear redundancy.

  11. There goes my first guess at who you might be, Mud.

  12. @Bram

    I see that now. I don't what made me overlook it before.

    That said, I stand by my assertion that it is badly written. The carving out of broad rights such as 'the inalienable right for wetlands to exist' seems quite bizarre. No doubt wetlands and natural areas are valuable but asserting an inalienable right means that such areas could never be developed. Further inalienable rights would seem to be retroactive. Could a person, for instance, dig up The Point and return it to marshland on the grounds the previous marsh's rights were trampled in the construction of the fort and later fountain?

    Further still 618.023 c seems to assert that Pittsburgh residents have full sovereignty within city limits. Could we throw a ring of steel around the city then and keep federal and state authorities out? I think not.

    This is why I see this sort of thing as so much symbolic grandstanding. Now excuse me while I petition the court to reintroduce wolves and bears into Frick Park.

  13. @Steel City Mud --

    That was actually me, not Bram. I wasn't trying to smack you down; just thought it was worth noting. We don't disagree on the notion that these bills wander far afield from the powers usually asserted by local officials.

    Welcome to the blogosphere, by the way.

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