Local Organizing, State Constitutional Change, and Challenging the Courts
Community Rights organizing began in Pennsylvania over two decades ago. Since then, dozens of local laws have been adopted that ban everything from factory farms, to the spreading of sewage sludge, to oil and gas fracking and pipelines. Modern Rights of Nature laws were born in coal country in Eastern PA — Tamaqua Borough, population less than 7,000 — in 2006. The community rights and Rights of Nature movement has spread exponentially since that time, to hundreds of communities across the United States, and to dozens of countries around the world.
In Pennsylvania, the work continues to deepen and to spread at the local level. Clara Township (pop. about 200) is facing a frack waste injection well, and has initiated a democratically-elected Government Study Commission to consider writing a new local constitution for the municipality. Discussions are underway with larger cities about how to implement what are currently voluntary climate action plans and to force cities to abandon investments in fossil-fuel corporations.
In Grant Township, a trial is currently scheduled for later this year. CELDF has worked closely with the people of the Township to successfully prohibit a frack-waste injection well since 2014. The Township has been sued three times since then: twice in federal court by Pennsylvania General Energy Company (the corporation that wants to dump waste) and once in Commonwealth state court by the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Yes, the DEP is suing the Township for trying to protect its environment. The trial will be in Commonwealth Court and focus on whether the DEP has failed to protect the environment in PA, as well as whether the people of Grant Township have the authority to protect their environment.
Additionally, and working with the PA Community Rights Network, it’s expected that a state constitutional amendment regarding Community Rights will be introduced in this session of the legislature. The amendment would guarantee the right of Local Community Self-Government to all Pennsylvania communities and return power to those who are most affected by important decisions: the people of the community.
This is just a snapshot of the work happening in PA at the moment, but we think it gives a good overview of how change can happen, and how movements can build over time.
We continue to:
- Work with communities at the local level who are most affected by harmful activities;
- challenge the corporate state, whether it’s the corporations that perpetrate the harm, the state that legalizes the harm, and/or the courts that justify the harm;
- build new legislative frameworks at the local and state level that ban harmful activities and set forth new thinking and visions for a sustainable world that protects nature, people, and communities.
The movement continues.