Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Our Local Precautionary Principle

A recent sermon by a Rev. Darcey Laine, alerted me to just what we are going through here as we call for banning Ordinances in Pennsylvania: The Precautionary Principle.

Rev Laine states this is "not a radical idea to say that if you have some early warning signs something might be dangerous, you should act with caution."

In 1945 the first studies came out about the danger of cigarettes. By 1954 we had epidemiological information linking smoking to cancer, we knew that the more you smoke, the more your chance of getting cancer increases, but we didn’t know how it was that smoking caused cancer. It wasn’t until the 1990s when science figured out that mechanism by which smoking causes cancer, that we had enough science necessary to effect law. 45 years passed there between when we had our first evidence that cigarettes probably were dangerous and when science could prove it for sure. In that time 2 generations of Americans got hooked on cigarettes, and too many died.

The principle of "forecaring" or the Precautionary Principle was part of the Earth Summit of 1992 and the Wingspread conference (convened by the Science and Environmental Health Network), the Rio Declaration, and is part of the legal code of the European Union.

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically."

"In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof."

"The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed, and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action."

Rev. Laine further examines the practice of "risk assessment" that now govern so much of our environmental law and only speaks to what is acceptable at a point in time with only the available data.

What we are calling for as we practice our civil rights to clean air, water, and healthy communities the environmental paradigm can be contained in 3 elements: uncertainty, harm, and precautionary action. This means that the public should not be the ones to bear the burden of proof but the proponent of the activity. This means that we, as communities, need to exercise our sovereign rights in the democratic process We simply cannot be lead by the gas industry and/or poor legislation, into misplaced "certainty" about the absence of harm.

Fracking is exempt from both clean air and clean water acts. Like cigarette smoking, the burden of proof is on the citizen. At stake is our health, water, and air. At stake is the health, water and air of Pennsylvania. Everyone lives downstream.

It took the cigarette industry 50 years and we really cannot wait that long to stop this process. The burden of proof simply must be on the gas industry. We must ban this process in Pennsylvania now.