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Politics & Government

Council votes yes on drilling ban ballot question

After prolonged debate Monday morning, the Pittsburgh City council took a 6-3 vote to place a question on the November ballot asking city residents if they want to essentially ban Marcellus Shale drilling and other activities within city limits.

Patrick Dowd joined Theresa Kail-Smith and Daniel Lavelle in voting no. Dowd tried to make it clear during the meeting that he was "in no way in favor of drilling" in the city, but he was voting no because the referendum is a waste of time. He feels the ordinance may not withstand a legal challenge and council should be thinking about other ways to prohibit gas drilling in the city.

"My hope is that our efforts would be around debating a zoning ordinance or around debating a noise ordinance or around any other sorts of ordinances that we can think of," said Dowd.

The city's law department agrees that the proposed change to the city charter opens the city to lawsuits filed by landowners and companies. The multi-page memo makes it clear that the legal department is against the ordinance.

Mayoral spokesperson Joanna Doven says the mayor will review the ballot question and take into consideration legal advice before making the decision to veto, sign, or return without signature the ordinance.

"I hope that the public contacts the office of the mayor to encourage Mayor Ravenstahl not to veto this, allow this statement to be made by the public one way or another," said bill co-sponsor Doug Shields.

If Shields can hold the six votes together, it would be a veto-proof majority. Shields said he is not worried that the change to the city charter could run afoul of state and federal laws.

"You cannot allow it to stand that corporate interests… are able to override the larger interests of our community," said Shields, "Is it perfect? I don't know, but lets have that discussion."

The language that would be inserted into the city's home rule charter goes on for seven clauses calling for the "Right to Water," the "Rights of Self-Executing" and the "Right to Self-Government." Sub clauses would make it "unlawful for any corporation to engage in the extraction of natural gas within the City of Pittsburgh," and "Corporations in violation of the prohibition… shall not… be afforded the protections of the commerce or contracts clauses within the United States Constitution or corresponding sections of the Pennsylvania Constitution."

Patrick Dowd says that he believes ballot questions should be simple "yes or no questions."

"Do you want to ban drilling in the city, yes or no, is a question," said Dowd.

Supporters say they will launch a public education campaign to combat what could potentially be a well-funded campaign against the ordinance.