U.S. Mayors Embrace Community Rights & Condemn State Legalization of Corporate Violence

Paul Cienfuegos’ September 27th, 2016 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/podcast, or subscribe via ITunes. Listen to this one HERE.)


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


Today I’m going to share excerpts from a recent blog about dozens of mayors from across the U.S. standing together to declare that local governments must have the authority to protect their local communities’ health and welfare from corporate fracking, and that state preemption laws that currently block such efforts are unacceptable. It’s from the website of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (or CELDF). Here it is…


In June, the United States Conference of Mayors was held in Indianapolis. More than thirty mayors of U.S. cities, coming from fourteen states, signed onto a letter calling on state legislatures to “affirm the ability of localities to protect the health and quality of life of residents against the widespread expansion of industrial fracking into their communities.” …


In recent decades, corporate interests … have concentrated their lobbying clout to influence state lawmakers. The result: Our own government enacts legislation that strips our local authority to govern the behavior of powerful industries when they come to our communities. As well, state lawmakers across the land are busy creating statutory cover for the regular violation of community rights by corporations engaged in dangerous activities. First, the states “permit” (legalize) harmful practices, like fracking. Then, they forbid local officials from living up to their public obligation to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the communities who elected them. The people and local public servants live with the impacts of this bad behavior. They understand at a basic level the injustice that is legalized in this way. …


One of the signatories to the mayors’ letter to state legislators was Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2010, Peduto was among the nine City Council members who voted unanimously to enact the Pittsburgh Community Bill of Rights ordinance. This was the first time a major U.S. city secured a handful of rights reserved by the people, and banned any new extraction of natural gas within the City as a violation of those rights.


Pittsburgh’s Community Bill of Rights enumerates a clear statement of the right of local community self-government. Further, it states that the right of self-government is free from state preemption or corporate interference when the locality engages in the legal protection of fundamental rights. In addition, the rights-based ordinance enumerates other rights, including the right to clean water, pure air, and freedom from toxic trespass.


Significantly, Pittsburgh City Council adopted this law against the advice of the City Law Director and in the face of state law preempting local regulation of the oil and gas industry. The Council concluded that the protection of basic rights is not and cannot be preempted by state regulatory law. Despite industry threats of immediate litigation against Pittsburgh if the Community Bill of Rights became law, there has been no legal action against the City since November of 2010 when it was enacted. As a result of Pittsburgh’s lead, counties, townships, cities, and boroughs in numerous states followed suit … to assert community rights over corporate privileges and state-issued permits. …


It is truly encouraging to see mayors of conscience take a stance demanding that those affected by fracking and related activities must have authority to decide if they’ll be allowed. The mayors were clear on this point. They wrote: “We believe that all communities should have the right to decide whether, where, and how industrial fracking operations – including not only well pads, but waste disposal facilities and all related infrastructure – happen within their borders. … It is no surprise that a growing number of communities are moving to halt or regulate fracking within their borders. The notion that our communities have the right to govern on issues and activities that threaten public health or the quality of life of their residents has a long tradition in law.” …


I’ve been reading excerpts from a blog dated July 24th from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (or CELDF), describing a public letter signed by more than 30 mayors from fourteen states calling on state legislatures to stop blocking them from passing local laws that protect the health and welfare of their communities from corporate fracking. The Community Rights movement continues to grow across the US, having helped communities to pass locally enforceable laws that have stopped corporate water bottling plants, factory farms, toxic sludge dumping on farmland, fracking, and more.


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 in Portland, Oregon, and on a growing number of other radio stations. I welcome your feedback.


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