History in the Making: An Ecosystem in Pennsylvania Defends Its Own Right to Exist & Flourish

Paul Cienfuegos’ December 16th, 2014 Commentary on KBOO Evening News


(His weekly commentaries are broadcast every Tuesday evening. You can view or listen to them all at PaulCienfuegos.com, CommunityRightsPDX.org, or subscribe via ITunes. This particular commentary can be heard HERE.)


Greetings! You are listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos.


For the first time in US history, an ecosystem has filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit to defend its own right to exist and flourish.


I can hear you now…..

An actual ecosystem filed a motion in court to protect its own rights?


How is that possible?!


Well, it’s possible because of what the human community of Grant Township, Pennsylvania, has worked hard to achieve. This community was trying to stop the toxic wastewater injection wells that fracking operations require, where all of the toxic fluids that are generated in a fracking operation have to be put somewhere, so hey, let’s just inject them back into the ground. I’m sure that won’t cause any problems now, will it!


This is what Pennsylvania General Electric Company was planning to do, after it received a permit from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. That is, until the locals decided otherwise. On June 3rd, the Township Supervisors unanimously approved a Community Bill of Rights ordinance that established the rights of human and non-human communities to water and a healthy environment – including the rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish. And in so doing, the locally enforceable rights of the Little Mahoning Watershed were secured under law in Grant Township, Pennsylvania.


In other words, wastewater injection wells used for fracking had to be banned, because these corporate activities would now violate the newly secured rights of the local river and ecosystem. Pennsylvania communities are increasingly threatened by fracking waste injection wells, as they endanger drinking water and local aquifers. Injection wells have also been linked with earthquakes in neighboring Ohio.


Following adoption of the ordinance, Grant Township resident Judy Wanchisn stated, "Pure water is guaranteed to us by the Pennsylvania Constitution under Article I, Section 27. That right is unalienable, and our governments have no authority to negotiate our rights away. With the passing of this Ordinance, we are securing and protecting our community's rights. Water is our most precious resource, and if we don't take action to protect it for our community and for future generations, who will?"


In response to the local ordinance, Pennsylvania General Electric Company sued the Township, arguing that the Community Bill of Rights ordinance is unconstitutional because it violates the corporate “person’s” civil rights under the 1st and 14th amendments, as well as the Commerce and Supremacy Clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The company asked the court to force the Township to pay damages for violating the corporation’s civil rights.


Township residents assert otherwise. They argue that Grant Township’s Community Bill of Rights secures legally enforceable rights for members of the community, and affirms that those rights are superior law.


Thomas Linzey, the executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, stated, “This lawsuit, brought by the gas industry to overturn a democratically enacted law, threatens the rights of both human and natural communities.  Communities across the country have established the rights of nature in law. They recognize that we cannot protect the environment with environmental laws that legalize fracking and other harmful activities. Communities are recognizing the rights of nature in law as part of a growing understanding that a fundamental change in the relationship between humankind and nature is necessary."


Grant Township, Pennsylvania is just one of more than 200 communities and counties in nine states that have now passed locally enforceable Community Rights ordinances that enshrine a local community’s inherent right of self-governance, that strip corporations of all of their so-called constitutional “rights”, and that ban specific corporate activities that are legal but harmful. And a few dozen of these ordinances also recognize that nature has enforceable rights.


On August 28th, Grant Township’s elected supervisors voted unanimously to defend their ordinance. Supervisor Jon Perry summed up the Board's position, saying “Our duty is to protect the health and safety of Grant Township residents.”


Local resident Judy Wanchisn stated “Our Declaration of Independence tells us that we’re born with unalienable rights, and protecting those rights is why we create governments. We stand behind our Supervisors in their decision to defend our community's rights.”


Things got even more interesting on November 18, when for the first time in US history, an ecosystem filed a motion to intervene in this lawsuit to defend its own rights to exist and flourish. Now we wait for the court to hear this case. I will certainly report on any developments as they occur, here on my weekly commentary.


Almost all of the story that I’ve just reported to you comes directly from press releases of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the community against the fracking company. For more information, go to their website at CELDF.org.


Does your community have a corporate harm problem that seems unsolvable in the conventional way that environmental organizations tend to play? If so, I’d love to hear from you.


You’ve been listening to the weekly commentary by yours truly, Paul Cienfuegos. You can hear future commentaries every Tuesday on the KBOO Evening News, and a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.


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