Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, December 6, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Innovative work to re-establish local control over corporations is continuing to develop. In East Brunswick, Pa., a new ordinance recognizes the rights of nature and asserts the right of residents to sue corporations as state actors.]

Chambersburg, Pa. -- On December 6th, 2006, the Board of Supervisors for East Brunswick Township in Schuylkill County, Pa., unanimously passed a law declaring that sludge corporations possess no constitutional "rights" within the community.

East Brunswick is the eighth local government in the country to abolish the illegitimate "rights" and legal privileges claimed by corporations, and the fourth community in the nation to recognize the rights of nature.

The ordinance takes the offense in challenging corporate managers in Pennsylvania and around the nation, who effortlessly wield those constitutional "rights" and legal privileges to dictate corporate values and nullify local laws.

The East Brunswick Township law

(1) bans corporations from engaging in the land application of sewage sludge within the Township;

(2) recognizes that ecosystems in East Brunswick possess enforceable rights against corporations;

(3) asserts that corporations doing business in East Brunswick will henceforth be treated as "state actors" under the law, and thus, be required to respect the rights of people and natural communities within the Township; and

(4) establishes that East Brunswick residents can bring lawsuits to vindicate not only their own civil rights, but also the newly-mandated rights of Nature.

In the ordinance, the Township Board of Supervisors declared that if state and federal agencies -- or corporate managers -- attempt to invalidate the ordinance, a Township-wide public meeting would be hosted to determine additional steps to expand local control and self- governance within the Township.

Adoption of the ordinance came after community residents organized educational forums and hosted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to discuss its rights-based strategy for confronting corporate and state preemptions of community self-governance.

Annette Etchberger, Regina Wiyda and Dr. Glen Freed took the lead in generating tremendous public support for an ordinance that asserts rights and creates tools for their enforcement. Traveling door-to-door and inviting hundreds to attend meetings that typically draw a handful of citizens, they put pressure on defiant Township Supervisors, who reluctantly called special meetings for discussion of the cutting edge law.

Success was not immediate. Faced with intense public pressure from residents who packed meetings and insisted on passage of the ordinance, former Vice Chairman Mark J. Killian Sr. resigned on October 12th and former supervisor Glenn Miller, resigned on November 1st. They had been unwilling to act upon the will of the people by confronting the sludge-hauling corporations. Their resignations delayed consideration of the law until replacements were appointed. But on December 6th, with a newly constituted Board of Supervisors, the ordinance was passed unanimously.

Ben Price, the Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the organization that helped draft the ordinance said, "The East Brunswick Township Board of Supervisors has, at last, heard the voice of the people and acted in the best interests of human and natural communities. Instead of protecting the interests of corporate directors for sludge hauling corporations, they've taken their oaths seriously, to protect the health, safety and welfare of everyone in East Brunswick. The people of East Brunswick Township have for months been demanding that their Supervisors challenge the usurpation of local democracy by corporate officers. They've been telling their elected officials that it is time to confront the illegitimate delegation of constitutional privileges on corporations, and reject the State's nullification of community self-governance. On December 6th, they finally listened."

Richard Grossman, the Legal Defense Fund's historian, noted: "A slave system once drove the entire country, North and South. Our nation is now governed by a corporate system. Like the slave system, today's corporate system calls upon the law to deny fundamental rights of people and communities.

"East Brunswick has joined other Pennsylvania municipalities in contesting the constitutional, legal and cultural chains that bind communities to the corporate system. They have heroically nullified corporate privilege delivered from on high by exercising democratic rule of law from below."

The East Brunswick ordinance is the result of countywide ferment against state regulatory agency interference in local decision-making on behalf of sludge and dredge corporations. Thousands of people in Schuylkill County now see that regulatory laws and agencies aid and abet corporate managers to dump their toxins, pathogens and carcinogens in people's front yards and into the living environment. In September of this year Tamaqua Borough and Rush Township passed similar ordinances.

Schuylkill County has a long history of people's struggles to wrest rights and governance from oppressive corporate railroad and coal barons. As Prof. Grace Palladino has detailed in her gripping history, Another Civil War -- Labor, Capital, and the State in the Anthracite Regions of Pennsylvania, 1840-1868, "in the coal regions... corporate lawyers and government officials creatively interpreted the law. Industrialists retained a remarkable ability to command the coercive power of the state to protect their particular economic interests." Since the 1840s, as the people who live there well know, corporations have used the County as a resource colony. Today, state and federal government officials join corporate directors in viewing Schuylkill County as a "sacrifice zone" where they can simply plug the old corporate holes that enriched a few tyrants with new corporate poisons that help fuel today's corporate system.

Schuylkill citizens are asserting their inalienable rights, and are rallying to pass local laws to create democratic self-governance in the County.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, located in Chambersburg, has been working with people in Pennsylvania since 1995 to assert their fundamental rights to democratic self-governance, and to enact laws that end destructive and rights-denying corporate action aided and abetted by state and federal governments.