Feb 16: Theft by Eminent Domain

In many communities, citizens have divided over a peoples’ right to allow a gas well pad to be installed on their property despite any ill consequences or inconvenience to their neighbors. With the encouragement of land men and gas drillers, the response to objections of leasing for fracking wells is “No one can tell me what I can or cannot do with my own property.” Others however believe that “Your right to swing your fist stops at the point it hits my nose.”

There is another debate regarding the rights of property owners, one in which the gas industry and its political supporters seem to lose all concern about individual property rights, and that debate centers around the seizure of private land for the pipelines.

We have long been familiar with the legal doctrine of imminent domain to seize private property by government for public projects: a school, a road, and for the right of way of an actual utility serving the community. In recent years in which the desire of business has come to trump the rights of private citizens, the doctrine has been expanded to allow private land to be seized to hand it over to profit-seeking businesses. The development is posited as good for the public. It is not always (maybe even, not usually) as in the case of seizure for the construction of a casino, or a shopping center that destroys locally owned businesses. It is also transparently not the case when the pipeline is to transport overseas natural gas whose extraction was promoted as making the U.S. energy independent. Should citizens stand still for this; shouldn’t this be resisted?

MOB will feature one heroic person who did resist, Ellen Gerhart of Huntingdon County. Ellen and her husband refused to grant a right of way to Sunoco Pipeline L.P. (which merged in 2017 with Energy Transfer Partners of Standing Rock infamy) for the Mariner East pipeline. When the land was seized by eminent domain, Ellen, her family, and friends fought back. Ellen paid a huge price for her courageous stand when Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas Judge George Zanic sent her to jail. Ellen completed two months in jail but now she’s back and she still hasn’t backed down. Come and hear Ellen tell her story of amazing and courageous resistance.

1-3:30 p.m. at the Butler Area Public Library (218 N McKean St., Butler 16001)  Hosted by Marcellus Outreach Butler.  
Ellen was born in Monaca, PA. She and her husband raised the two daughters on their 27-acre property in Huntingdon County, where they enjoyed a peaceful existence. Just after Ellen retired from a 28-year career of teaching, their nightmare began when their land was seized for the Mariner East pipeline. Her story is both a cautionary tale about the plight of ordinary people when faced with a rapacious industry grab, and an inspiring example of personal courage and fortitude.

Ellen is a recipient a 2018 FracTracker Sentinel Award which honors environmental heroes, people “whose noble actions exemplify the transformative power of caring, committed, and engaged people.”

No comments: