Friday, November 09, 2012
Pa. Farmer Bans Fracking on Land through 1st-of-its-Kind Conservation Easement
By Press Action
A Pennsylvania farmer has become the first landowner in the United States to use a conservation easement to recognize and protect the rights of water, forests and wild ecosystems.
Stephen Cleghorn, who owns a 50-acre organic farm in Jefferson County, Pa., said the easement will ban activities such as hydraulic fracturing and will “elevate the rights of nature above the power claimed by extractive energy corporations to despoil the environment.”
The easement was established in honor of Cleghorn’s late wife, Dr. Lucinda Hart-González, who died of lung cancer on Nov. 14, 2011. Earlier this year, a ceremony was held at Cleghorn’s farm, Paradise Gardens and Farm, at which Hart-González’s ashes were scattered on the property and the farm was declared forever inviolate and off-limits to the use of fracking for the production of shale gas.
Cleghorn said he hopes other landowners across Pennsylvania, as well as municipal governments, will take action to recognize the rights of communities and nature through both easements and local laws. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, or CELDF, a nonprofit Pennsylvania law firm, worked with Cleghorn to help create the easement, which secures the rights of nature legally on his property.
The CELDF has assisted more than three dozen municipal governments in eight states to create local laws that recognize the rights of nature. Residents of several municipalities across the country voted Nov. 6 to pass amendments that establish clean air and water community bill of rights and that ban fracking. The CELDF helped many of these towns in drafting the initiatives that passed.
“The time has come for the corporate ‘right’ to destroy the earth be subordinated to the rights of our communities and nature,” Thomas Linzey, executive director of the CELDF, said in a statement. “Stephen’s actions, in honor of his late wife, represent an expansion of the resistance against gas corporations in the state.”
While working with the CELDF over the last six months to create the easement, Cleghorn said he was warned that the easement might reduce his property’s value. But he ultimately concluded, “It’s not really my property. Nature had it first. Human laws that carve it up into market commodities that can be traded and sold matter less to me than the first rights of nature.”
Furthermore, Cleghorn noted that a recent study showed that shale gas drilling reduces property values by 24% when that property depends on private water wells, as his home and farm does. “For me, this easement preserves this land for organic farming and protects it from an extreme form of fossil fuel extraction,” he said. “I know plenty of potential buyers who would go along with those conditions. In the long run, as we try to save this planet from us, I think I’ll be just fine on property value.”
According to an overview of the Hart-Gonzalez conservation easement, “The primary objective of this easement is to recognize, create and secure the Rights of Nature as present within and manifested by the ecosystems and natural communities that exist on, and those that are dependent upon, the Property, to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.”
The overview notes that a “qualified mineral interest” exists in the property and that it is the intent of the easement that the provisions of the grant apply to the extraction of that mineral interest, requiring any mineral extraction to abide by the provisions of the grant.
The extraction “is to be exercised only in a manner that does not violate the Rights of Nature as present within and manifested by the ecosystems and natural communities existing on the property, or those that are dependent upon the property,” the overview says. “Any extraction of mineral interests that cannot be carried out without violating the rights of Nature is prohibited as constituting a de facto and de jure violation of this easement.”
Cleghorn and representatives from the CELDF will be holding a press conference at 1 p.m. on Nov. 14—one-year after Hart-González’s death—at Cleghorn’s farm, located at 2771 Paradise Road, Reynoldsville, Pa. Also, the CELDF said it is establishing a new Pennsylvania-based organized, the Terra Conservancy, to receive and enforce rights of nature easements.Share