It was a pleasure to hear the Community & Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s founder Thomas Linzey bring to life a subject I’ve rarely given much thought to: our constitution and how it was based on English law, both of which placed commerce & property above people, communities & nature.
Linzey, a man who once ran for US President, who went to Widener Law School, and who in 2008 assisted Ecuador to craft a constitution that included a bill of rights for Nature. The concept of a bill of rights for Nature seems so obvious, except that this was the first instance of rights for nature anywhere.
CELDF is a law firm offering pro bono legal services, recognized nationally for success with 190 wins and 4 losses. Despite the legal wins, they learnt that communities could only permit less harm and were thereby legalizing harm with permits & regulations. We need to change the conversation from harm to rights; to who makes the decisions. We need rights-based ordinances; that to prohibit harm, there’s not a remedy within the existing regulatory system.
There was an example of State College, where Penn State wanted to replace a coal power plant with gas, had a partnership with Columbia Gas, and permits in hand from DEP & PUC for a pipeline thru the center of town; the community eventually won because they had earlier signed in a community bill of rights.
Another example was of Grant & Highland townships in Pennsylvania. Who banned disposal of fracking waste-water. When the gas company responded with a lawsuit, the township had dissolved and morphed into another legal entity.
To date, CELDF has helped over 200 communities set up rights-based ordinances.
Looking over CELDF’s Board of Directors, which read like a list of trusted friends, my doubts about taking a leap to reclaiming our democracy; to defining our energy future; to facing our challenge to reduce carbon emissions – all evaporated. There was Kenny Ausubel of Bioneers, Josh Fox of Gasland, Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s Icecream, Randy Hayes of Rainforest Action Network, author Derrick Jensen, Winona LaDuke, Bill Twist of Pachamama Alliance.
Philadelphia has a home rule charter, which is our local constitution. How do we occupy this charter, to build momentum towards the climate targets we’ve set for ourselves?