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Banning Corporate Personhood: How Communities Are Taking the Law Back from Big Companies

Ben Price of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund explains how communities can fight corporate power with a new legal weapon.

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And by the way, future lost profits as a property right belonging to corporations -- can you imagine? I'm going to exaggerate a little bit here, but what if you went down to a nearby business, filled out a job application, and said, "I'd like this job," and you got turned down? Imagine trying to sue for the future profits you could have made if they'd have only hired you. Well, it sounds absurd, I know. I think it's absurd that a corporation could, under any guise, say that the gas they have plans to retrieve is something that they can claim a vested property right in under any guise.

Conway: Okay, we're going to call this the last question, and I'm combining a bunch here, Ben, so I'd ask you to try to address this in its entirety as quickly as possible. A number of people expressed kind of a helplessness here. "Are there any actions that citizen groups can take if their townships are all pro-drilling? How does a resident stop a test well from becoming a production well now, and, based on your experience, what is the timeframe it would take to put your community rights provisions into effect?"

Price: The work we do really is not so much about making sure that we stop drilling, just to be honest with you. Our job is to make sure that we attempt to empower community majorities to establish local control to the greatest degree possible.

Having said that, if you have a community majority that is against gas drilling, how long would it take to get an ordinance in place? In general, the process I'm used to in Pennsylvania and elsewhere -- there's usually ... there's a legal process you have to go through of advertising a proposed ordinance at one meeting, and then as soon as possible would be to have a hearing, and then maybe a vote on it at that very meeting. So, a couple of months. But that's a couple of months after you've persuaded your community, "This is the way to go"; after you've secured and persuaded your local officials to vote in the affirmative, assuming you don't have initiative and referendum; and also, assuming that you've got the language in place. We don't simply hand communities, "Here's the finished product," and say, "There it is; go with it."

We engage in a real dialogue with people in the community; find out what it is precisely they want to do. We have some communities, all they want to do is ban drilling -- that's it. Someone'll say, "We want to ban drilling. We also want to ban them from depositing the frack water anywhere in our community. We want to ban them from withdrawing water and using that for the drilling process, even if they don't do it in our community." There are a number of things that we can discuss about what outcome you're looking for -- what the law's going to look for. Length of process -- it varies. The shortest would be a couple of months. That would be real fast, I think.

You can listen to the complete program here.


Sabrina Artel is the creator and host of Trailer Talk, stories from America's kitchen table. Her weekly radio show explores community engagement through conversations about culture, politics, the arts and the environment. To find out more about Trailer Talk's Frack Talk Marcellus Shale Water Project please visit Trailer Talk .