In the last two weeks, Covington Weekly has outlined the process of economic development in St. Tammany Parish, indicating an undemocratic and self-serving system established by bad legislation. Covington Weekly is thrilled to introduce an organization that may help with a solution to our problem. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund operates on the principle that as a society, we are in the midst of an escalating ecological crisis as the result of decisions made by a relatively few people who run corporations and government. Sustainability will never be achieved by leaving those decisions in the hands of a few, both because of their belief in limitless economic production and because their decisions are made at a distance from the communities experiencing the impact of those decisions. Therefore, a right to local self-government must be asserted that places decisions affecting communities in the hands of those closest to the impacts. That right to local self-government must enable communities to reject unsustainable economic and environmental policies set by state and federal governments, and must enable communities to construct legal frameworks for charting a future towards sustainable energy production, sustainable land development, and sustainable water use, among others.
In doing so, communities must challenge and overturn legal doctrines that have been concocted to eliminate their right to self-government, including the doctrines of corporate constitutional rights, preemption, and limitations on local legislative authority. Inseparable from the right to local self government – and its sole limitation – are the rights of human and natural communities; they are the implicit and enumerated premises on which local self government must be built.
CELDF was formed in 1995 in Pennsylvania by Thomas Linzey, Executive Director, and Stacey Schmader, Administrative Director, to provide free and affordable legal services to community groups. Over the first few years, CELDF assisted hundreds of communities in Pennsylvania facing unwanted corporate development projects such as incinerators and quarries. CELDF assisted these communities to try to stop the projects by appealing corporate permit applications through the state’s environmental regulatory system. CELDF was very successful at appealing permits, finding the holes and omissions that would render them incomplete. As such, the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Hearing Board would toss out the permits, and the communities would celebrate their “victory,” believing the system of law had worked.
However, the corporation could and would simply file another permit, this time filling in the holes and omissions cited. Once the corporation filed an administratively complete permit application, the state was automatically required to approve it. The communities asked CELDF to appeal the permit again, but there was nothing left to do. The law in Pennsylvania, as in every other state, works the same way. The state legalizes an activity, such as mining, or commercial water withdrawals, or factory farming, and communities are legally prohibited from saying “no” to it.
After experiencing how the regulatory system operated over several years and watching communities lose time and time again, CELDF determined that they would need to take a different approach.
Beginning in 1998, they began to assist communities to draft legally binding laws in which they asserted their right to self-govern. Initially, the work focused on communities facing corporate factory farms and later the application of sewage sludge to farmland. Communities across Pennsylvania adopted their anti-corporate farming and anti-corporate sludging laws.
To accommodate the growing interest, with calls coming in from across the country, CELDF launched the Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools in 2003, which have become a critical tool in grassroots organizing. Communities facing other corporate threats, such as uranium mining in Virginia and commercial water withdrawals in New England, began to take on this work.
The Legal Defense Fund has now become the principal advisor to activists, community groups, and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations. CELDF has taught nearly 200 Democracy Schools across the country and over 100 communities have adopted Legal Defense Fund-drafted ordinances.
The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Legal Team and CCST President Rick Franzo recently met with representatives of the Parish, including St. Tammany Parish attorneys, to discuss cooperating on legal efforts going forward. As of Monday, the Parish has filed a “Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief,” demonstrating a positive direction by the newly hired attorneys. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 19. CCST is also proud to announce a partnership with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, considered to be a tremendous asset.
“Building sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”