Banning Corporate Personhood: How Communities Are Taking the Law Back from Big Companies
Continued from previous page
This is the continuation of the story of individuals speaking up when the gas corporations are attempting to control their hometowns and of individual becoming increasingly involved in their local government, collaborating with each other as they face drilling throughout the area.
The following is from Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund speaking to residents of the Sullivan County Catskills in Eldred, New York. You can read (or hear) Helen Slottje’s part of the talk here. The event was moderated by John Conway.
John Conway: Ben Price, will talk about a little bit different approach. And Ben's approach involves an outright ban, passing a local law that would provide an outright ban on drilling.
Ben Price is the Projects Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Ben coordinates community organizing across Pennsylvania, where over 100 communities have already adopted Legal Defense Fund-drafted laws. He has served as consultant to the Pittsburgh City Council; assisted in drafting Pittsburgh's Protection from Natural Gas Drilling Ordinance; and is working with other communities in both Pennsylvania and New York, as well as Maryland and Ohio, to adopt community rights ordinances that assert the authority of municipalities to protect their community health, safety, welfare, quality of life, and the natural environment by banning industrial activities such as gas extraction. As Projects Director, Ben offers communities free organizing assistance and training for municipal officials and residents for the adoption of local laws.
He also assists with strategic organizing in New England and northern California, and is the First Chair Democracy School lecturer. Ladies and gentlemen, Ben Price.
Ben Price: Thank you, John, and thanks to everybody for being here this morning. I'll tell a little bit more about the Legal Defense Fund in just a second, but before I begin I wanted to say something maybe you may not expect, but I agree with everything that Helen said. I do. That is where we are right now. And I actually do believe that given the state of affairs with New York law, that land use laws are a viable tool in order to actually keep the drilling out. I think that makes sense as a starting point.
I'm here, I guess in a way, to offer a cautionary tale. I think that it behooves you and your communities to engage in precautionary measures in anticipation of what has happened in other states. The Legal Defense Fund opened its doors in 1995, and the plan was to offer free legal services to municipalities and community groups in order to assist them to protect their quality of life, their health, safety and welfare, their environments, because in general it's those small municipalities and towns -- it's the community groups -- that don't have the financial wherewithal to fight the large corporations when they come in and they say, "Here's what we're going to do whether you like it or not." And whether you like it not, sometimes -- as everyone has heard already -- you can sue anybody for anything with one small caveat -- if you've got the cash. And the industries have the money, and in general the municipalities and the people do not.
Our experience early on back in '95 when the Legal Defense Fund opened their doors was pretty typical. We engaged in rather traditional community organizing, which is to say that we assisted community groups and individuals to challenge permits from being issued, to review the applications for permits that would allow for some legal activity -- and by the way, gas drilling in Pennsylvania and in New York, and Ohio and West Virginia and Maryland is legal. It's legal. And it's regulated -- we know that, too.