A group of residents opposed to the liquefied natural gas export facility currently under construction at Dominion Cove Point in Lusby plans to propose an ordinance to the county that would prohibit future projects like it from happening in Calvert.
During a Sept. 30 meeting of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, the group heard from Ben Price, national organizing director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Price said about 200 communities nationwide have already adopted ordinances similar to the one he is helping draft for CCHC, which asserts that residents have the right to local self-governance, the right to a sustainable energy future, the right to clean air and water and more. Price dubbed the ordinance a “Community Bill of Rights.”
Price said the right to self-governance doesn’t mean just voting for elected leaders. He said most of the grievances in the Declaration of Independence were about how local governance had been stripped away, and localities today experience the same thing through the preemption of the state and federal government. Price asserted the state has no right to issue permits that violate the rights of citizens, like the ones that allow the construction of Dominion’s export facility at Cove Point.
“The state is acting illegitimately to issue permits … to violate your rights,” Price said.
The proposed ordinance sends a message to the state government to stop oppressing local governments. Instead of “picking a fight” right away and calling for the halting of the Dominion project currently in construction, the ordinance will prohibit new facilities, Price said. A draft “Community Bill of Rights” is in progress and a summary was distributed at the meeting.
“Under this law, corporations engaged in or attempting to engage in prohibited activities in the county could not avail themselves of certain legal rights and powers that would enable them to nullify the rights of residents of the county. Corporations engaged in gas or oil extraction in neighboring municipalities could be held liable for violations of rights secured by this amendment,” the summary states.
Defending these rights in court would be costly, especially against large corporations.
“They may have money, but we have us and there’s a lot more of us than them,” Price said. “Our burden is to educate, our burden is to inspire.”
County attorney John Norris said in an interview that he had never heard of this tactic before, and that he had not heard of citizens introducing an ordinance before. Ordinances need a sponsor, like a county department or commissioner. The Calvert County Board of County Commissioners is responsive to community interest, and setting the weekly agenda for the commissioners’ meetings comes from the commissioners’ office.
Commissioner Mike Hart (R), who lives near the Dominion Cove Point project, said “there’s no doubt the county needs more control on the decisions that are made.”
But with the type of ordinance Price is speaking about, Hart said, “that would have to go through the state and I don’t ever see the state doing that.”
Dominion spokesman Karl Neddenien declined to comment, stating that the company had not seen the proposal.