‘The river as plaintiff’
[The following is the introduction to Ed Wesely’s comments, submitted to the Delaware River Basin Commission, on its draft regulations for natural gas drilling.]
The human costs of gas drilling, especially in western PA, evoke daily headlines that highlight our need to protect the Delaware River Valley.
Given breathing room, thanks to DRBC, we should craft regulations that conserve entire ecological communities, from stoneflies to herons and mergansers. If the gas industry blights their habitats we’ll lose our priceless river.
A 1972 Supreme Court dissent by William O. Douglas argued that the voice of an “inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage,” must be heard.
“The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes—fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water—whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger—must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction…
“Then there will be assurances that all the forms of life which it represents will stand before the court—the pileated woodpecker as well as the coyote and the bear, the lemmings as well as the trout in the streams….”
In the present circumstance, we’re asking DRBC to “represent” and conserve values so eloquently described by Douglas.
A few decades ago, famed wildlife biologist Aldo Leopold described the ambivalence we feel about “progress” thus:
“Our tools are better than we are,
And grow faster than we do.
They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides.
But they do not suffice
For the oldest task in human history:
To live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”