Consent of the Governed

Rural Pennsylvanians challenge corporate power

| December 4, 2003

Forget the Battle of Seattle. The real struggle against corporate power is alive and well in rural Clarion County, Pennsylvania.

Led by attorney Thomas Linzey, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is challenging corporate autonomy like nowhere else in the country, writes Jeffrey Kaplan in Orion. Founded in 1995 to provide legal support to communities fighting environmental issues, the organization really took off two years later, when several large agricultural companies began to exploit an obscure state law that effectively repealed local waste-disposal ordinances in order to establish massive hog farms and sell toxic sludge as fertilizer. More than 140 rural governments came to CELDF for help, and the campaign soon mushroomed into broader actions to protect township sovereignty.

In 1999, with CELDF's assistance, 10 townships passed ordinances prohibiting corporations from farming or owning farmland. Rush Township passed an ordinance to control the spreading of sludge. Sludge hauler Synagro-WWT responded a year later by suing Rush Township, arguing that the anti-sludge ordinance was a violation of the company's constitutional right of due process. A statewide agribusiness trade organization, PennAg Industries Association, later challenged Belfast Township's factory farm ordinance in court. A ruling on both cases is expected next year.

Those actions prompted two Clarion County townships, Licking and Porter, to pass historic ordinances that deny corporations the right to be considered as 'persons,' a move that sets up a likely court battle that could force the Supreme Court to re-examine the entire notion of corporate accountability.
-- Craig Cox

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