A Pennsylvania judge in the heart of the Keystone State’s fracking belt has issued a forceful and precedent-setting decision holding that there is no corporate right to privacy under that state’s constitution, giving citizens and journalists a powerful tool to understand the health and environmental impacts of natural gas drilling in their communities.
“Whether a right of privacy for businesses exists within the prenumbral rights of Pennsylvania’s constitution is a matter of first impression,” wrote Washington County Court of Common Pleas Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca late last month. “It does not.”
Judge O’Dell Seneca’s ruling comes in an ongoing case where several newspapers sued to unseal a confidential settlement where major fracking corporations paid $750,000 to a family that claimed the gas drilling had contaminated their water and harmed their health. The Court ordered that settlement unsealed, enabling the papers, environmentalists and community rights advocates to examine the health issues and causes.
“The ruling represents the first crack in the judicial armor that has been so meticulously welded together by major corporations,” said Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has helped 150 communities in eight states adopt Community Bill of Rights to limit corporate powers. “It affirms what many communities already know, that change only occurs when people begin to openly question and challenge legal doctrines that have been treated as sacred by most lawyers and judges.”