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Allegheny County Executive Fitzgerald vetoes fracking ban for parks

Keith Srakocic

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald vetoed two bills recently passed by County Council.

The first bill would ban new natural gas drilling, also known as fracking, inside and underneath county parks. The ban would not apply to existing leases, including the lease atDeer Lakes Park, but it would prevent those operations from expanding.

The second would require County Council to interview and confirm candidates for director-level positions appointed by the chief executive. Any candidate not confirmed within 45 days of their nomination would become ineligible for the position.

Advocates, including County Council President Pat Catena, who sponsored the bill, said the second bill was meant to codify the existing confirmation process laid out in the administrative code.

Fitzgerald claimed the bill was “a clear violation of the Home Rule Charter.”

He called the fracking bill “an exercise in bad government and is political theater.” He claimed it would not prevent fracking or other industrial activity in county parks and would only remove the county from negotiations over environmental protections.

“Any legislation authorizing natural gas extraction under land owned by the county would act as a repeal of this legislation,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.

“[T]he passage of Bill No. 12162-22 by Council has removed the county from any role in protecting the environment and our parks. Elected members of the executive and legislative branch should be at the table and this legislation removes our collective ability to do so,” he added.

Fitzgerald has maintained that he has “no plans to enter into a lease to allow any drilling-related activity on or under any of our parks.”

He instead suggested council vote on aseparate bill that would restrict agreements that would “permit or otherwise facilitate private and/or public entities engaging in any minerals and natural gas extraction-related activities within Allegheny County’s parks.”

The bill was introduced in early July and referred to the Committee on Sustainability and Green Initiatives, where it currently sits.

Council approved the two bills at ameeting last week. Environmental advocates, many of whom spent hours giving public comment before the vote, applauded the fracking ban.

Fitzgerald vetoed the bills on July 5, giving council less than 30 days to vote to override the vetoes.

If the council’s voting margins remain the same as when they passed the bills the first time, they could override the veto on the fracking ban but not the new rules on appointments.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at