Citizen Action Monitor

America doesn’t have a fracking problem, it has a democracy problem, and citizens are fighting back

Fighting back in courts and in trenches with hundreds engaged in sustained acts of civil disobedience.

No 1536 Posted by fw, December 11, 2015

“The people think we have a fracking problem. It’s not. It’s a democracy problem is that it doesn’t matter what we want at the local level. It doesn’t matter that we don’t want fracking or corporate factory farms or corporate water withdrawals. It doesn’t matter, because we’re under a system of law that doesn’t care what we want as a community…. It’s almost an intelligent evolution of activism toward saying, we want to have a fight over whose rights are subordinate and whose rights are elevated over whose. And in these communities across the United States that have been doing this work, they’re now joining into statewide organizations to run state constitutional amendments to change their state constitutions to allow communities or authorize communities to actually do this kind of work. And just recently, folks from the states who have joined together came together at the national level to propose a federal constitutional amendment that would create a federally recognized right to local community self-government.”Thomas Linzey

In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges speaks with attorney and brilliant activist strategist, Thomas Linzey, the executive director and senior legal counsel for Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, (CELDF) about the grassroots movements rising up against the fracking industry, and the legislative and direct action necessary to resist corporate power in the absence of a true democratic system.

Below is a 26-minute embedded video of the interview with Linzey and fellow activist Mark Clatterbuck. However, the accompanying, greatly abridged and edited transcript focuses exclusively on Linzey. The Linzey segment ends at the 14:47-minute mark. Subheadings have been added to the repost to help bring main points to the fore.

To see the video and access the original complete transcript, click on the following linked title.

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Days of Revolt: The Revolution Will Be Local  by teleSUR / The Real News, December 8, 2015

ABRIDGED & EDITED TRANSCRIPT

[Note, apart from Chris Hedges’ introduction, Thomas Linzey is the only other speaker].

Chris Hedges — Today we’re going to talk about the grassroots movement across the United States to rise up against the fracking industry, what that resistance looks like, how it can become effective, and what the industry, and in particular the state, is doing to stop it.

With me are two anti-fracking activists: one, Thomas Linzey, the executive director and senior legal counsel for Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, or CELDF. CELDF has assisted close to 200 communities in ten states to ban certain corporate projects and nullify corporate constitutional, quote-unquote, rights at the municipal level.

[Thomas Linzey speaking]

CELDF’s challenge: How to help communities stop big oil & gas’ environmentally damaging projects

For a number of years, we [CELDF] assisted communities to try to say no to certain projects coming into their community. So it could be factory farms or pipelines or frack projects or those types of things.

But under the US legal system, attempts to try and better regulate these projects failed, leaving no alternative but to find ways to stop them

And it used to be that communities would basically be told that they can’t say no under this system of law that they have and they would move to a regulatory approach. So they would try to regulate the project better as it was coming to their community. And increasingly we found that that just wasn’t that good enough. I mean, whether that’s fracking, that’s a threat to clean air and clean water and sustainable energy future. And, of course, when we frack or lay pipelines for fracked gas, we’re cooking ourselves in our own juices because of climate change. But for all those reasons, it’s not enough to better regulate these projects. We actually have to stop them.

Question — Why are US municipalities legally prohibited from banning certain types of projects?

And, unfortunately, in the United States what few people–relatively few people know that if you live in a municipality, your own community, that your community is prohibited from banning certain types of projects under the law. And people generally ask us: well, why is that? Why can’t we say no to a pipeline or no to a frack project coming to our community?

Answer – US corporations have constitutional rights that trump citizens’ environmental rights

And the answer is not really that complicated. It’s that corporations have two types of power base. One is they can go to the legislature and get a law passed, like an oil and gas act, at the state level that pre-empts or nullifies our communities from saying no to these facilities coming in, or corporations can use their corporate constitutional rights directly. So corporations in the United States have constitutional rights, and they can use those rights directly to sue municipalities who attempt to pass laws to ban projects. So it’s almost like a myth in this country that we have the power to decide the fate of our own communities. We don’t. And it’s basically because of this collection of corporate law and power that’s exercised against communities.

And in the fracking arena, the threat to public health and safety is horrendous

So in the fracking arena I think it’s even worse than factory farms or toxic waste disposal or landfills or those types of things, because with fracking you’re looking at these horrendous consequences–you know, radioactive material coming up from the ground, huge amounts of water being used for these frack projects. And then you’ve got to dispose of the waste water, which the frack industry generally jams into these things called injection wells. And, in fact, one injection well in Pennsylvania is slated to receive the equivalent of eight seconds of Niagara Falls every year, so in terms of volume of this toxic wastewater that’s being injected into the ground.

So all those harms, you would think that communities should have the power to say no to the fracking operations or these pipelines coming in. And it turns out, because of those combination of legal doctrines that have been concocted by the corporations, that we don’t.

CELDF’s solution is to help communities establish “community bills of rights”

So the question is: what do communities do when they run up against that obstacle of law? And the answer is: we’ve been pioneering and helping communities to actually say no in a way that sticks. So 200 communities across ten states have adopted local laws that we refer to as community bills of rights.

So, communities now have a legal right to ban any activity that violates their bill of rights

So essentially a community is saying, hey, we have a right to clean air, we have a right to clean water, we have a right to a sustainable energy future. We even have a right to climate, which is starting to emerge at the local level, people saying, we have a right to a safe, clean climate that’s unaffected by fossil fuel emissions. So that’s a right of ours. And then in these laws they ban the activity that’s actually violating those rights.

Truth be told, there can be no sustainability in a system that lacks local democracy    

Is economic or environmental sustainability possible when we live in this system in which corporations actually make decisions and have more rights than the communities in which they operate? …. Shouldn’t communities have the democratic authority to make decisions about the future of their own communities? …. The answer to us is clear that you will never have sustainability in a system that lacks local democracy, because if people aren’t making the decisions where they live, where the impacts are happening, and you have corporations and corporate boards making decisions 2,000 miles away, you’re never going to have a chance at any kind of sustainability. That’s a pipe dream at this point.

We don’t have a fracking problem in America, we have a democracy problem – the legal system doesn’t care what communities want

But people forget that the first regulatory agency was the Interstate Commerce Commission in the early 1900s, which was created to protect the railroad corporations from the people. And so it’s an old history here that we have to deal with.

The people think we have a fracking problem. It’s not. It’s a democracy problem is that it doesn’t matter what we want at the local level. It doesn’t matter that we don’t want fracking or corporate factory farms or corporate water withdrawals. It doesn’t matter, because we’re under a system of law that doesn’t care what we want as a community.

And part of our job, at least, is to actually bring majorities around that concept to begin passing laws that challenge the basic structure of how the corporate state [crosstalk] …

Citizens have now begun forming state-wide and nation-wide organizations to fight for constitutional amendments to authorize communities’ right to local self-government

It’s almost an intelligent evolution of activism toward saying, we want to have a fight over whose rights are subordinate and whose rights are elevated over whose. And in these communities across the United States that have been doing this work, they’re now joining into statewide organizations to run state constitutional amendments to change their state constitutions to allow communities or authorize communities to actually do this kind of work. And just recently, folks from the states who have joined together came together at the national level to propose a federal constitutional amendment that would create a federally recognized right to local community self-government.

Simply saying “NO” at the community level doesn’t work

So it’s multilayered, it’s complex stuff, but we’ve got to grapple with the basic structural stuff. It’s not enough to say no, ’cause no doesn’t stick. We actually have to go after those doctrines to clear them out so that the work is actually easier a year down or five years down the road or ten years down the road.

And the legal process alone is not enough to counter powerful state and corporate elites

I think when these local laws get passed, in some ways it legitimizes direct action, civil disobedience, so that people can say, we’re not necessarily acting outside the law; this is our law, this is our bill of rights, and we’re actually enforcing that bill of rights.

And in places where a judge has overturned it or people can’t get it passed because the corporate folks clamp down and spend $500,000 to beat a local initiative kind of thing, I think that still serves as a platform for people to do that civil disobedience.

But the legal fight serves as a platform for citizens to engage in sustained acts of civil disobedience by thousands to actually disrupt the process

And so folks are saying, well, if we can’t use the legal process to actually confront these actors, these corporations,…. it would be nice to have a city council that would stand up and say, we’re going to take them on anyway. But there’s relatively few elected officials that are willing to stand up and actually say, we’re going to drive in place a different kind of law and then get sued kind of thing. Spokane, WA [and] other places are considering civil disobedience, not just to make a statement of four or five people sitting on a track and then getting arrested, but actual hundreds or thousands of people who are doing the direct action to actually stop the project.

It goes well beyond making a moral or ethical statement; it’s actually aimed at stopping the project

I think it means thinking about civil disobedience differently than we’ve thought about it before. So it’s not just to make a moral or ethical statement; it’s actually aimed at stopping the project itself. And that means, I think, successive days. It means rotating people through. It means bringing people in from other places. It means filling up jails. I mean, we’re back to the civil rights movement of the ’60s, where they did the math and said, okay, we’ve got to fill the beds in the jails, we’ve got to overflow them, we’ve got to go to other places.

You can’t rely entirely on a legal process that’s stacked against you

I mean, our resistance has to ratchet up, the opposition has to ratchet up our stuff to a point where it’s actually actively interfering with these projects, because if you don’t do that and you rely entirely on the legal process and the legal process is so stacked against you in terms of what municipalities can and can’t do, that at that point you have no other option but to engage in that type of action.

It’s going to take a shift in the mentality of major environmental organizations

[That type of action is] not happening [anywhere] right now. I mean, there’s pockets of people getting arrested in different places to try to stop different projects, but most of it becomes a one-day thing. So people get arrested, and then they go home and there’s nobody to [interrupted]… not to pick on the Sierra Club, but I know the Sierra Club suspended their one-day prohibition on civil disobedience to allow arrests to happen in front of the White House around Keystone XL. So it’s going to take a shift in groups’ mentality, not just the grassroots groups on the ground, but also the major environmental organizations, who in some ways have been a disappointment to a lot of people in terms of the direct action, confrontation type of thing.

Grassroots groups have learned that they can’t rely on major environmental organizations for help

We just wrote a piece called Firing Big Green, that it’s time for the community groups to understand that the options that they’re being given by the major environmental groups are not the full spectrum of options that they need to explore.

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