How We Work

CELDF provides legal services, organizing support, education and news to community groups, elected officials, and the general public.

We are not a typical environmental organization. We work to establish and protect rights - including worker and environmental rights, and rights of nature.

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.

Evolution of a Movement

CELDF began providing free legal services to communities facing corporate harms in 1995.

In those days, we helped communities by appealing corporate permit applications and we were very successful in finding errors. The Department of Environmental Protection would toss out the permits, and the communities would celebrate their “victory,” believing the system had worked.

But the corporations would simply file another permit, this time using our previous appeal to fill in the gaps. The communities would ask us to appeal again, but there was nothing left for us to do legally. We couldn’t help them. We learned  that when states legalize activities such as fracking, mining, water privatization, or factory farming, communities are legally prohibited from saying “no” to them.

Experiencing the grind of the regulatory system up close led to an evolution of our thinking.

The Realization

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.  


The Reason

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.  

Learn these lessons and more in Democracy School.


The Movement

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.

In 1998, we began drafting laws to help communities across Pennsylvania fight corporate factory farms and sewage sludge by asserting their rights to self-govern.  Since then, we’ve helped nearly 200 communities across the United States assert their rights against a range of issues. We work with communities, states and nations, spearheading the community rights movement. Our goal: to help all communities, everywhere, establish rights for humans and nature over the systems that control them.

Join the movement!