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Democrats step in to counter GOP fracking suit


State Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10) was joined by Democratic colleagues Friday in New Hope to announce their action to protect clean drinking water from environmental hazards of fracking.

Their action was in response to a lawsuit filed by Republican senators against the Delaware River Basin Commission to allow natural gas drilling in the basin in Pennsylvania.

Arguing for the constitutional right of Pennsylvanians to clean water, the motion to intervene was filed earlier in the day in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the case of Yaw v. The Delaware River Basin Commission. Republican caucus members had filed suit against the DRBC in January, and in late February the Delaware River Keeper Network successfully intervened in the case.

“Clean water and air is a constitutional right for all Pennsylvanians, and it’s the duty of the General Assembly to ensure those rights are not infringed upon,” said Santarsiero. “Thanks to the DRBC and the work of environmental advocates, an incredible amount of progress has been made over the years to clean our waterways and create a reliable source of drinking water for millions of people. We have come too far to cede that progress to the damaging effects of fracking on our environment and land.”

“The DRBC was created 60 years ago to manage the river system and protect our water resources, including protecting the watershed from the harmful impacts of fracking,” said Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-19), minority chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “The DRBC exercised its authority, with all four basin states voting to ban fracking. Individual Pennsylvania legislators don’t get to pick and choose when it comes to the compact’s decisions.”

More than a decade ago, DRBC unanimously voted in favor of a moratorium on fracking pending the adoption of new regulations. Since then, the commission has received almost 80,000 public comments, which have been considered in updated draft rules.

“There is mounting evidence from throughout our commonwealth that fracking cannot be conducted safely and, in many cases, permanently and completely contaminates our shared drinking water resources,” said Sen. Katie Muth.

Five million Pennsylvanians across 17 counties reside in the basin, which includes Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia counties. The Delaware River Basin spans 6,471 square miles in the commonwealth, across 522 municipalities.

“I chose to sign on as an intervenor in this case because I know my constituents and all Pennsylvanians take seriously their constitutional right to clean air and water,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11). “This may be our last stand in attempting to protect the waters of the Delaware River Basin from the environmental hazards created by fracking.”

Sen. Maria Collett (D-12) added, “My constituents and I know firsthand what it’s like to have to fight for ‘pure water.’ ... The argument made by my Republican colleagues that, as trustees of Pennsylvania’s national resources under this amendment, they must protect the pecuniary value of such resources over the health and survival of the people and ecosystems dependent on them is not just unconstitutional, it’s inhuman.”

In a February DRBC meeting the four member states unanimously voted to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin. During the special meeting, the United States ( Army Corps of Engineers) abstained from the vote, but indicated support for the result.

Environmental groups shared their support for the Democratic senators’ intervention in the lawsuit in written statements.

In a statement read during the press conference, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania said, “Thousands of residents and countless elected officials and experts have spoken out in support of banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin.”

Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said, “The Delaware River is irreplaceably important to our entire region. To allow it to be sacrificed to the fracking industry, to be used to advance the climate crisis, and to be used to help advance an industry that is devastating the health, safety, lives, property values, quality of life and local economies of entire communities is indefensible.”

“PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur said in a written statement. “Fracking shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, much less near an iconic natural waterway like the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for millions of Americans. Given that local Pennsylvanians voiced their overwhelming support for protecting the Delaware River from fracking during the public input processes, it’s unfortunate that the elected officials who are the plaintiffs in the ‘Yaw v. DRBC’ case are using the courts to undo the will of local residents.”

The Democratic Caucus members who have signed onto the lawsuit are Senators Steve Santarsiero (Bucks), Carolyn Comitta (Chester), Amanda Cappelletti (Montgomery, Delaware), Maria Collett (Montgomery, Bucks), Wayne Fontana (Allegheny), Art Haywood (Montgomery, Philadelphia), Vince Hughes (Philadelphia), John Kane (Chester, Delaware), Tim Kearney (Delaware), Katie Muth (Berks, Chester, Montgomery), John Sabatina (Philadelphia), Nikil Saval (Philadelphia), Judy Schwank (Berks), Sharif Street (Philadelphia), Tina Tartaglione (Philadelphia) , and Anthony Williams (Philadelphia).

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