State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Environmental-Rights Referendum Appears Likely for State College Ballot

on August 17, 2011 5:02 PM

A referendum focused on local environmental concerns appears likely to be included on the general-election ballot in State College.

The Groundwell PA advocacy group has collected more than enough borough-resident signatures to qualify the referendum for inclusion on the Nov. 8 ballot, Groundswell founder Braden Crooks said this week.

He said the referendum -- if approved by the county elections board -- will ask borough voters to decide whether an environmental bill of rights and a local gas-drilling ban will be incorporated into State College borough's governing charter.

"We want to bring the topic out to the general public as much as we can," said Crooks, a 2011 Penn State graduate in landscape architecture.

To make the referendum eligible for inclusion on the November ballot, Groundswell needed to collect just more than 700 petition signatures by Aug. 8. Crooks said the organization ended up with about 1,000 signatures from borough residents before the deadline.

Groundswell filed the necessary documents -- including proposed wording for the referendum -- with the Centre County elections office earlier this month, he said. Pending a review by the county solicitor, the county elections board is expected to vote within a few weeks on whether to formalize the referendum's place on the ballot.

The elections board also will formalize the wording of the referendum -- provided that it's allowed to appear on the ballot, county elections Director Joyce McKinley said.

First, though, the solicitor's review will examine the validity and legality of the concept and the referendum's proposed wording, she said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, no one had stepped forward to challenge the referendum plan, at least on the county-government level.

Brooks said Groundswell has received assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in crafting the proposed referendum language. Specifically, if approved by voters, the measure would expand the borough home-rule charter to say all borough residents have a right to clean water, a right to clean air and a right to sustainable energy.

The proposed borough-charter addition also underscores the community's right to self-governance and would ban any future gas drilling within borough limits. It would give rights to ecosystems -- including the rights to clean water and air -- and would ban any "non-sustainable energy production" in the borough, as well.

Provided that the county elections board agrees to place the referendum on the November ballot, Crooks said, Groundswell activists will work for the next couple months to raise public awareness of and knowledge about the effort.

As for the months thereafter, Crooks said, Groundswell will likely look to build momentum for similar campaigns in other municipalities. Already, interest is building in Centre County townships including College, Ferguson and Rush, he said.

"We're going to see where this takes us," Crooks said.

More details of the Groundswell effort and related pushes elsewhere in Pennsylvania are included in earlier coverage, links to which are posted below.

Earlier coverage

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Penn State, State College Noon News & Features: Wednesday, Aug. 17
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