No 547 Posted by fw, August 14, 2012
If you enter the term ‘CELDF’ in my blog’s “Search this site” box it immediately becomes apparent from the relatively large number of posts that I’m a fan. I especially appreciate the revolutionary approach this Pennsylvania-based NGO employs in carrying out its mission: “Building sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.”
I have also been an avid follower and donor to Ecojustice Canada, “a national charitable organization dedicated to defending Canadians’ right to a healthy environment”.
Curious to compare their respective approaches to the legal protection of the environment, I invited Ecojustice to examine and comment on CELDF’s strategy. Devon Page, Executive Director, Ecojustice, promptly responded with his first impressions. With his subsequent permission to publish his feedback, our email exchange follows.
MY REQUEST FOR INFORMATION
To: Ecojustice Canada
From: Frank White
Sent: July 31, 2012
Subject: Ecojustice Inquiry
Further to our telephone conversation yesterday, as promised, here is my opening request for information re Ecojustice’s work in “defending Canadians’ right to a healthy environment.”
I acknowledge up front that I am not sufficiently familiar with the work of Ecojustice to be able to make an informed critique of your four key areas of concentration: clean water, natural spaces, healthy communities and climate protection.
I am somewhat more familiar with the efforts of two or three U.S. NGOs. So starting with what I do know, I thought I would provide examples of some exciting legal developments happening south of the border and ask if Ecojustice is doing anything comparable here.
Let’s start with the work of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a Pennsylvania-based organization. What distinguishes CELDF from other environmental NGOs engaged in legal action, is captured, in part, from these passages excepted from my blog post Far and away the best damned strategy I’ve seen for building a grassroots transformational mass movement, which, by the way, was not written by a member of CELDF but was posted on its website presumably because it was a reasonably accurate profile of what CELDF is doing –
“The CELDF strategy isn’t meant to succeed according to the [existing] system’s own rules, but rather to provide a political and organizational framework for resisting the system’s depredations and for building a democratic relocalization movement. It’s not so much to level the playing field as to set up a new one.”
“This idea that people have rights and that the state has no authority to license violation of those rights, is the core principle, the underlying premise, for mounting a new civil rights movement for the legal recognition and protection of community rights…”
“The CELDF isn’t naive about how well these ordinances and bills of rights are likely to fare in the system courts. The strategy doesn’t depend on “winning in court”. The plan is for communities to organize around their ordinances and constitutions, then confederate toward larger-scale constitutional conventions which would turn pre-emptive “federalism” right side up. So each community draws up its own bill of rights, and then this constitutional network is used toward building an amend-the-constitution movement. None of this is to say that the ordinances are “only” symbolic, or that we concede being ignored in court. This is just, this is the real law, this is the constitution, this is the right thing to do. Any legitimate court will uphold it.”
I hope the above is just enough to capture your attention and interest in reading more. I have numerous other posts on my blog about CELDF, and by entering the term in the “Search this site” box you can access them all. But let me bring to your immediate attention my two most recent posts that are directly or indirectly related to CELDF’s work –
- Big legal battle shaping up in US as more than 200 cities in 15 states pass local ordinances banning fracking
- Pennsylvania legal decision strips oil and gas industry of power to control property, returning it to municipalities
That’s enough for now. Depending on the response I get, I would like to follow up with another example of significant U.S. NGO legal action.
Granted I may be asking too much of your busy staff, but if someone could take a look at what CELDF is doing, contrast and compare it with what Ecojustice is up to, and get back to me with comments and/or articles that illustrate comparable work by Ecojustice I would be grateful. Perhaps I could use your response as the basis for a post on my blog.
Thanks for your cooperation in this matter.
ECOJUSTICE’S REPLY: (Note: Apart from my added hyperlinks for information, the email is unedited)
From: Devon Page
Sent: July 31, 2012
Subject: Ecojustice Inquiry
My colleagues mentioned your call – I was intrigued and asked to be forwarded your email so that I could consider it and write you directly.
First, thank you for taking the time to get in touch with us and for describing the approach of other organizations. Within the context of our charitable mission of using the law to protect and restore the environment, Ecojustice is committed to engaging in the most effective activities possible. I appreciate you taking the time to think about how we could be more effective.
When I reviewed CELDF’s website, I was intrigued so combed it to determine the exact strategies they use to advance environmental legal outcomes. I’ve reached the conclusion that our activities encompass those CELDF undertakes but with a different emphasis.
For example, we similarly work at the municipal level. First, I must note that our research in seeking legal advances on oil and gas development, including considering methods and activities in the United States, reveals that municipal authority in the US is stronger than that which exists in Canada – here, municipalities have fewer opportunities to proactively protect the environment. But, to the extent we can, we often engage at the municipal level to achieve environmental gains. For example, in 2001, our intervention in the Supreme Court of Canada in support of the Quebec community of Hudson’s right to ban cosmetic pesticides resulted in the introduction of the precautionary principle in Canada and contributed to cosmetic pesticide bans across Canada. [See: Hudson Pesticide Supreme Court Victory, Ecojustice, January 12, 2010].
More recently, 2 weeks ago, we worked with lower mainland municipalities to inform them of their rights to challenge Kinder Morgan’s intention to more than double pipeline offloading capacity of tar sands bitumen in the Burrard inlet adjoining Vancouver. You may wish to watch the interview of our climate lawyer, Karen Campbell, speaking to the issue on behalf of Burnaby community members on tonight’s BC news (either BC CTV or Global – both interviewed her). In this context, our work mirrors that of CELDF. [Although I did not find a video link to the Karen Campbell interview, I did find this print account: Helping landowners protect themselves from a Kinder Morgan oil spill, by Karen Campbell, Ecojustice, July 31, 2012].
We complement this work, however, with, a majority focus on litigation activities. Simply put, our record demonstrates that winning victories in court is often a final and concrete step towards protecting the environment. Our recent victory in the Federal Court of Appeal successfully challenging federal failure to protect killer whale habitat directly resulted in more stringent protections. I believe that the shift in emphasis for CELDF from litigation to community mobilization directly relates to the increased powers of local government. [See: Resident killer whale lawsuit, Ecojustice, June 19, 2012].
Having said that, I find it interesting that more recently we’ve evolved in directions similar to that adopted by CELDF in terms of area of focus. For example, we are expanding our primary activity of litigation to encompass progressive law reform, including at the municipal level. More particularly, much as CELDF seeks to introduce local bills of rights, last year, Ecojustice identified as an organizational priority the introduction of Canadian environmental bills of rights at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. Over the next 5 years, we will be working on dedicated litigation and law reform campaign to achieve much the same outcomes as CELDF seeks – the individual right to clean air, clean water and a healthy landscape, with the initial focus on key municipalities and provinces. In this regard, I will be taking a close look at CELDF’s approach to see if we can adopt or mirror their activities.
I do note that CELDF engages to a much greater extent than we in community organization (we do that, but only to the extent that we seek to assemble community groups to represent as clients). We’re currently evaluating campaigning/citizen mobilization to determine if it could better enable environmental/legal outcomes we seek.
As a former litigator with Ecojustice, I’ve watched court wins yield material results. I remain convinced that our emphasis on litigation outcomes presents the best chance of achieving material outcomes. But, I’m going to investigate further to see if CELDF, aside from the ‘leg up’ they have from stronger local laws, can teach us something to enhance our effectiveness.
Maximizing Ecojustice effectiveness is a constant goal for my colleagues and I. If you want to speak further, feel free to call me.
Again, thank you for taking the time to write. Your interest and support is much appreciated.
Devon Page, Executive Director| Ecojustice
In closing, I’m pleased that Devon plans to further investigate CELDF’s daring approach to protect the “rights of nature.” I do intend to follow up on Devon’s kind invitation to speak further. If anything of general interest emerges from this ongoing discussion, I’ll be sure to post it. Incidentally, the bold text highlighting in Devon Page’s email is mine, added to emphasize the importance that I attach to these passages.