Rights of Nature - First Law To Recognize Nature's Rights

Tamaqua Law Is First In Nation to Recognize Rights of Nature

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
675 Mower Road
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania 17201

Pennsylvania Borough Strips Sludge Corporations of “Rights”

Becomes First Municipality in the United States to Recognize the
Rights of Nature

CONTACT : Ben Price, Projects Director
(717) 243-6725

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (September 20) – On September 19th, the Tamaqua Borough Council in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, unanimously passed a law declaring that sludge and dredge corporations possess no constitutional “rights” within the Borough. Tamaqua thus becomes the fifth local government in the country to abolish the illegitimate “rights” and privileges claimed by corporations. Those constitutional “rights” and legal privileges have been routinely asserted by corporations in other localities to nullify local laws.

The Tamaqua law also (1) bans corporations from engaging in the land application of sludge within the Borough; (2) recognizes that ecosystems in Tamaqua possess enforceable rights against corporations; (3) asserts that corporations doing business in Tamaqua will henceforth be treated as “state actors” under the law, and thus, be required to respect the rights of people and natural communities within the Borough; and (4) establishes that Tamaqua residents can bring lawsuits to vindicate not only their own civil rights, but also the newly-mandated rights of Nature.

In the ordinance, the Borough Council also declared that if state and federal agencies – or corporate managers – attempt to invalidate the ordinance, a Borough-wide public meeting would be hosted to determine additional steps to expand local control and self-governance within the Borough.

Ben Price, the Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the organization that helped draft the Ordinance, declared that “the Tamaqua Borough Council has taken an extraordinary – but logical – step. Since this nation’s founding – and for thousands of years before – ‘law’ in the western world has treated rivers, mountains, forests, and other natural systems as ‘property’ with no rights that governments or corporations must respect. This has resulted in the destruction of ecosystems and natural communities, backed by law, public policy, and the power of government. The people of Tamaqua have changed how the law regards Nature, and have acted in the grand tradition of the Abolitionists, who launched a people’s movement in the 1830’s to end the legal but immoral treatment of slaves as property and to establish forever their rights as people entitled to fundamental and inalienable human rights.”

Richard Grossman, the Legal Defense Fund’s historian, pointed out that the work in Tamaqua Borough has several parallels to prior people’s movements, and declared that “Abolitionists struggled over decades to undo constitutional law which had long defined slaves as ‘property’ and to transform this nation’s ‘property and commerce’ constitution into a ‘rights and liberty’ constitution. Tamaqua has now challenged today’s constitutional injustices – against Nature and against the self-governing ‘We the People.’”

The Tamaqua ordinance emerged out of six months of discussion and debate across Tamaqua Borough and Schuylkill County. Democracy Schools presented by the Legal Defense Fund along with public meetings, hosted by local governments and community groups, laid the groundwork for the Borough Council to overturn years of collusion between the Pennsylvania legislature, state environmental agencies, and corporate polluters focused on denying the rights of people within Tamaqua. Helping to drive the campaign was the Army for a Clean Environment (ACE), a thousand-member Schuylkill County citizen organization led by Dr. Dante Picciano.

In the coming months, other municipalities in Schuylkill County are expected to follow Tamaqua’s lead. Municipalities across Pennsylvania are considering similar ways of equipping their citizens with the legal authority to stop corporate assaults engineered by mining, sludge, and factory farm corporations – assaults enabled and protected by State permitting agencies and courts.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, has worked with communities resisting corporate assaults upon democratic self-governance since 1995. Among other programs, it has brought its unique Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools to communities in Pennsylvania and twenty-five other states where people seek to end destructive and rights-denying corporate acts routinely permitted by state and federal agencies. Over one hundred Pennsylvania municipalities have adopted ordinances authored by the Legal Defense Fund.