A Community Rights Movement in New Hampshire

When communities have no recognized authority to enact local laws that protect and expand the rights of people, their communities, and ecosystems, they are denied authority to protect their health, safety and well-being.

In response, communities in New Hampshire are partnering with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to draft rights-based ordinances (RBOs) that protect people and ecosystems. These RBOs are forms of  local lawmaking to empower people and ecosystems with secured protections for their health, safety, and well-being and for the economic, social, and environmental resiliency of their community as a whole.

These RBOs also call for state and federal constitutional change to recognize, secure, and protect the right of local self-government and ecosystem rights.

Water Protection RBOs

  • 2006 – Barnstead – Water Rights & Right of Local Community Self-Government (RLCSG), including Ecosystem Rights 
  • 2007 – Atkinson
  • 2008 – Nottingham
  • 2016 – Barrington

Efforts to protect freshwater systems through local action are a response to an ineffective New Hampshire Groundwater Protection Act. Although the Act treats water as a local resource that towns should have first opportunity to institute water protections for, the state Department of Environmental Services (DES) has created a system of “regulation” that in effect legalizes “Large Groundwater Withdrawals” by issuing permits to business entities. Under this system, towns are denied authority to say “no” when, for example, a company like Nestle’ or USA Springs is permitted, by the state, to withdraw.

Sustainable Energy (HVDC Transmission Lines) RBOs

  • 2012 – Sugar Hill & Easton – Right to Sustainable Energy & Right of Local Community Self-Government, including Ecosystem Rights
  • 2018 – Plymouth

Local lawmaking to challenge HVDV facilities takes on the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee (SEC). This body was established by the legislature for the review, approval, monitoring, and enforcement of compliance in the planning, siting, construction and operation of energy facilities. However, no protections are guaranteed for public health, safety, or welfare.

Northern Pass was a high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line that would run over 190 miles from the Canadian border, through the White Mountain National Forest, down to the southern part of the state, delivering harmful Canadian Hydropower from a mega-damn that violates indigenous sovereignty in Quebec. The energy would go to states south of New Hampshire. Northern Pass, which communities have resisted through the passage for RBOs, was projected to go through 31 Towns; all but one or two oppose the project as damaging to their health, their natural environments and their local economies.  

Over the course of a decade, communities attempted through the legislature and regulatory agencies to have the project denied, but private-interest, for-profit entities – such as the project developer, Eversource – continued to move forward through the permitting process.

Sustainable Energy (Ridgeline Industrial Wind Turbine Projects) RBOs

  • 2013 – Grafton – Right to Sustainable Energy Future & Right to Local Community Self-Government, including Ecosystem Rights 
  • 2014 – Danbury, Alexandria, Hebron
  • 2015 – Alexandria – Expansion of 2014 RBO to prohibit exploratory data collecting

The New Hampshire SEC decides all siting criteria for large energy projects, yet it must only “consider” local sentiment. 

Social Justice RBOs

  • 2016 – Barnstead – Freedom from Religious Discrimination & ID

Barnstead, New Hampshire has adopted a first-in-the-nation law that protects residents from political and civil persecution based on their religious beliefs. The Community Bill of Rights law establishes the right to be free from religious identification requirements as threatened by the 2016 presidential election campaign in which a candidate spoke of the possibility of requiring people to carry religious identification cards.

The adoption of this Ordinance is the most recent expansion of the Community Rights Movement in New Hampshire to more explicitly include social and economic justice issues.

Other concerns in New Hampshire range from and include lack of election integrity, spreading of human waste as fertilizer, immigration injustice, local police militarization, and workers’ injustice. Regardless of the concern, the common motivating factor for RBOs remains constant: denial of the Right to Local Community Self-Government and Rights of Nature.

Right to a Healthy Climate (Fossil Fuel Pipelines & Infrastructure) RBOs

  • 2016 – Mason – Right to Sustainable Energy Future & Right to Local Self-Government, including Ecosystem Rights – (Unpassed)
  • 2019 – Exeter – Right to Healthy Climate & Right to Local Self-Government, including Ecosystem Rights
  • 2019 – Nottingham – Right to Healthy Climate & Right to Local Self-Government, including Ecosystem Rights 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and New Hampshire SEC both have jurisdiction over the permitting process of fossil fuel projects, leaving resisting local communities to fight against not only state, but also federal permits.

Liberty Utilities Granite Bridge Pipeline proposed a two-billion cubic foot LNG storage tank and processing facility along with 27 miles of pipeline through eight New Hampshire towns.

 Kinder Morgan NED pipeline was set to carry fracked gas across 18 Southern New Hampshire towns for East Coast export.

All affected towns were opposed and attempted legislation to hold the developer financially responsible for the entirety of the project in hopes of making the project financially unviable. No related legislation passed through the state legislature.



Advancing State Constitutional Change

In 2016, state constitutional change was introduced for the first time in New Hampshire that would allow local governments to recognize the Right of Local Self-government and Rights of Nature.

In 2018, one-third of the New Hampshire House of Legislators, mainly Democrats, voted in favor of advancing state constitutional change empowering local communities to recognize the Right of Local Self-government and Rights of Nature at the local level. This took place under a Republican-controlled House. 

In 2019, state constitutional change was introduced for a third time in New Hampshire that would allow local governments to recognize the Right of Local Self-government and Rights of Nature. This effort came during a Democratic-controlled House and revealed that neither party has a genuine interest in protecting the rights of nature and ecosystems above the claimed personhood “rights” of corporate interests. Democrats backed away from supporting the change when they were in power.

Momentum in Maine

2008 – Shapleigh, Maine, Residents Vote in Rights-Based Ordinance to Protect Their Water


2010 – Monroe – Local Law declares “corporate rights” cannot compete with the rights of living people.

2013 – Sangerville, Maine Adopts Community Bill Of Rights Ordinance to Reject Transportation and Distribution Corridors