Consent of the Governed

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state law that effectively repealed local waste-disposal ordinances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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