Here come the modern-day robber barons.
They are not Wall Street bankers or Northeastern industrialists seeking great expanses of America for chump change to build railroads.
They are not the last pulse of the smoldering coal industry seeking to crawl under your front porch and sink long-wall mines.
They are not even the pinstriped patronage boys at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission grabbing up right-of-way to pave highways to nowhere.
The new barons on the block are packing fear, a former governor and a writ of habeas nonsense to pull off the heist of the century. The great gas grab – known as “forced pooling” – allows the taking of mineral rights against the wishes of a property owner so that gas companies and opportunistic neighbors can harvest profits stored under your home.
The gateway to contemporary takings was established by the rail, coal and transportation industries, and a blighted neighborhood in Connecticut. But the key to your home lies under a legislative welcome mat rolled out in 2010. The Conservation Pooling Act, sponsored by state Reps. Marc Gergely (D-Allegheny County) and Garth Everett (R-Lycoming County), proposed to create a state office to oversee compensation for unpatriotic landowners who refuse to play ball with the gas industry.
Great idea, huh? A state office created by the most bloated legislature in the country to oversee land takings, and make sure just compensation is implemented. Maybe they can even deprive landowners of appealable rights like they did with gaming by reserving all legal decisions for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Perhaps I’m just being hysterical and an enemy of progress. “Forced pooling” is clean, safe, and money in the bank. Just ask the industry. The Marcellus Shale Coalition stated that recalcitrant landowners’ damages would be limited to paper cuts: “The only thing they will see? A check in their mailbox each month.”
I guess the folks of Clearfield, Dimock, Hopewell Township and Susquehanna County dreamed up their spills, fires and blowouts.
The core issue is not environmental, but the legal erosion of property rights. Eminent domain is not a lever to stimulate the bottom line for the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
A new “forced pooling” strategy emerged from the Top Secret Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission on July 29. Corbett’s handpicked gang proposed a kinder, gentler “forced pooling” land grab and renamed it “unitization.” (Final Report, p. 30) Look for Mr. Corbett to hide behind the recommendations of the Star Chamber and move to undermine, invalidate, and weaken the Oil and Gas Conservation Law.
The “reform minded” Corbett Administration – whose CEO is charged with protecting the Constitution – will have to burrow deep into a legal cave to justify a massive new takings law. To exercise the power of eminent domain, the government must prove that the four elements set forth in the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are present: (1) private property (2) must be taken (3) for public use and (4) with just compensation. These elements have been loosely interpreted and subverted by Pennsylvania politicians and the energy industry via Act 54.
The Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code (“PRPA”) is commonly known as the Property Rights Protection Act (2006). The PRPA specifically provides that the exercise by a condemning authority to take privately-owned property by eminent domain for use by private enterprises is prohibited (26 Pa. CS. Section 204 (a)), except for certain limited exceptions that primarily pertain to blighted property (26 Pa. CS. Sectionß 204(b)).
The fact of the matter is that there is no “public use” component to justify “forced pooling.” This power grab is corporate socialism. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the Tea Party? Don’t tell me they’re out of gas.
“Forced pooling” or “unitization” can only be signed into law after Pennsylvanians read Governor Corbett’s lips. On April 26, 2010, candidate Corbett told his backers at the Appalachian Basin Oil and Gas Seminar: “It’s [forced pooling] private eminent domain. I don’t think that’s right. I was made aware that it’s on the industry’s wish list, but I don’t agree. If I see a bill that contains forced pooling, I won’t sign it.”
No matter how you describe the crime – “forced poling” or “unitization” – theft is theft. No doubt the Supreme Court will bless the massive expropriation of private property. Maybe we should put a for sale sign on the Pennsylvania border, or at the very at least, change our state motto to: “Greed is good!”
Photo by Tom Owad
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