The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is helping build a decolonial movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights – building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international levels.
Begun as a traditional public interest law firm seeking to protect the environment, CELDF sought to protect communities from projects such as incinerators and waste dumps that cause environmental harm. Along the way, we encountered barriers put in place by both government and corporations. Such barriers included corporate constitutional “rights” and the unilateral preemptive authority of state government – both of which are used to override community decision making and local democracy.
CELDF learned that no matter how hard we tried to stop projects that cause known environmental harm, our own government had worked with corporations to make sure such projects were sited.
In fact, together they had developed a structure of law which – rather than focused on protecting people, workers, communities, and the environment – was instead focused on endless growth, extraction, and development.
It is a structure that is inherently unsustainable.
Thus, we recognized that whether communities were facing fracking, injection wells, factory farms, pipelines, greedy bosses, landlords, GMOs, water extraction, or a wide range of other threats, the barriers they faced to stopping these projects – and in their place establishing sustainable energy, water, agriculture, and other systems – were the same.
Our Work Today
Today, through grassroots organizing, public education and outreach, and legal assistance, nearly 200 municipalities across the U.S. have advanced CELDF-drafted laws to establish rights for ecosystems, human rights to water, a liveable climate and to live in public, as well as to ban practices including fracking, factory farming, sewage sludging of farmland and water privatization.
Public awareness of state and corporate interference in local democracy has exploded. The issue of “state preemption” and unilateral state interference in local democracy has reached new audiences. As this movement continues to grow, we will continue to push for the structural change in the system of government needed to win communities the basic power to heighten protections for civil, human and ecosystem rights.
We work for state constitutional change and assist local law-making efforts to protect essential human and ecosystem rights while challenging barriers to the recognition and enjoyment of those rights and to local self-determination and sustainability. We have assisted the first communities in the U.S. to eliminate corporate “rights” when they interfere with basic human and ecosystem rights.
Further, CELDF has worked with the first U.S. communities on settler-controlled land and the first country to establish the rights of nature in law – recognizing the rights of ecosystems and natural communities to exist and thrive and empowering people and their governments to defend and enforce these rights.
This Rights of Nature movement has since blossomed and today enjoys tremendous public support and enthusiasm.
We are now in the middle of what can be understood as the second of three phases in this movement. The first was the novelty of the idea: can we imagine ecosystems having rights? The second is this new popular demand for ecosystem rights and the grappling with concepts and working out the legal mechanisms for how the new paradigm works. The third phase, which we have not yet gotten to, will be a confrontation between ecosystem rights and corporate constitutional rights, and whether we will all have to pay corporations to stop exploiting and destroying the earth (it does, in the end, all come down to money). The second phase that we are now entering will decide whether Rights of Nature will be a true paradigm shift in our legal systems or just a new shade of lipstick for the pig. CELDF is committed to making Rights of Nature law genuinely protect ecosystems and uphold human rights, indigenous rights, and self-determination in the process. We hope for your support in making the change that is necessary.
Traditional environmentalism will not protect our communities. The current legal system is designed to allow, regulate and permit destructive corporate activity. Whatever issue your community is facing, protesting, petitioning and prosecuting all have utility, but cannot stop corporations from causing harm long term. They can only delay it.
Corporations have more rights than communities. Corporate “rights” and powers have been expanding in the U.S. for over 200 years. The community rights movement began just 15 years ago. Today, communities find that corporations – along with our state and federal government – are forcing factory farming, fracking, and other threats into their communities.
Help communities establish the rights they deserve. CELDF helps communities by providing the education, tools and legal advice they need to create Community Rights ordinances. These laws give power back to the people, so they can protect their own communities.
CELDF provides legal services, organizing support, education and news to community groups, elected officials, and the general public.
Nearly 200 communities have adopted CELDF-drafted Community Bills of Rights laws that transition them from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations. These are first-in-the-nation, groundbreaking laws that are strengthening true democracy.
Our work takes us to communities across the country facing a range of issues.
We often begin our work when a community member or municipal official contacts us because they’re facing a proposal for a fracking operation, factory farm, water privatization, or other threat. We work with communities to understand why they can’t simply say “No” to those threats.
This involves working with community members and elected officials to recognize how the structure of law works and for whom – and how communities are beginning to make changes through local self-governance to protect the places where they live.
This is the start of the Community Rights Movement.
Questions? Read our FAQs:
What is CELDF?
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm.
What does CELDF do?
CELDF provides free and affordable legal services, education and organizing help to communities facing threats to their local environment, agriculture, economy, and quality of life.
Where does CELDF provide these services?
We assist communities across the U.S. and countries around the world.
Who does CELDF help?
Local residents, communities, organizations, municipal governments, and nation-states.
How is CELDF funded?
CELDF is funded through foundations and private donations.
How do I learn more?
Contact us! We’d love to hear from you.