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Pennsylvania Township Challenges Corporate Personhood as it Bans Corporations from Dumping Sludge & Mining Wastes

  • PACKER TWP, PENNSYLVANIA, PASSES LAW CONTROLLING CORPORATIONS
    Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, June 12, 2008
    Straight to the Source

Rachel's introduction: Another muncipality has passed a local law extinguishing the rights claimed by corporations. They said it couldn't be done, but it is being done.

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania -- On June 11, 2008, the Board of Supervisors for Packer Township in Carbon County, Pennsylvania, voted unanimously to enact a law that bans corporations from dumping sewage sludge as "fertilizer" and for "mine reclamation."

The Ordinance also states as a matter of law that, within the community, corporations possess no constitutional "rights," privileges or immunities intended for people. The community included this provision as a challenge to corporate representatives who use court- bestowed constitutional "rights" and legal privileges to nullify local laws and override the legitimate rights of citizens.

Board Chairman Thomas Gerhard stated, "We felt that it was in the best interests of the residents to adopt the ordinance."

In adopting the law, Packer Township became the third local government in the country to define liability and impose penalties for chemical bodily trespass, following the lead of the Town of Halifax, Virginia, and Mahanoy Township in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

The people of Packer Township also included a provision that recognizes the right of natural communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish within the Township, joining nine other communities that have asserted environmental protection as an enforceable right rather than a matter of discretionary convenience.

The Packer Township law

1) Bans corporations from engaging in the land application of sewage sludge;

2) Bans persons from using corporations to engage in the land application of sewage sludge;

3) Provides for the testing of sewage sludge prior to land application by individuals, with testing costs to be borne by the applicant;

4) Prohibits chemical bodily trespass upon residents of the Township;

5) Establishes strict liability and burden of proof standards for chemical trespass;

6) Removes claims to legal rights and protections from corporations within the Township;

7) Recognizes and provides for enforcement of rights of residents, natural communities and ecosystems;

8) Subordinates sludge hauling and disposing corporations to the People of Packer Township;

9) Adopts Pennsylvania regulations as locally enforceable concerning the land application of sewage sludge by individuals.

In the Ordinance, the Township Board of Supervisors declared that if state and federal agencies -- or corporate managers -- attempt to invalidate the Ordinance, a Township-wide public meeting would be hosted to determine additional steps to expand local control and self- governance within the Township.

The Ordinance was adopted following an attempt by nearby Tamaqua Borough's Council Member Cathy Miorelli to investigate the dumping of over thirty loads of sludge uphill from the Still Creek Reservoir in Packer Township. The reservoir is the source of drinking water for surrounding communities, including Tamaqua.

Ms. Miorelli said that when she contacted the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) she hit a roadblock. "I asked [Tim Craven, the DEP representative] if the substance was permitted. He said he didn't know and it would be pretty difficult for him to find out." Craven then suggested the Council Member contact the land owner, but Ms. Miorelli advised the DEP rep that such an investigation seemed to be his responsibility. Pressing the issue, she was able to convince Mr. Craven to contact the land-owner, and in a follow-up call was told the land owner reported the substance to be "lime."

According to a Times-News report "Everything changed on April 2, when Miorelli got a phone call from Craven, apologizing to her and saying that she in fact was correct and it was biosolid material [a PR term for sewage sludge developed by industry and adopted by State and federal agencies] from Philipsburg, N.J. that was dumped in the fields.

"Mayor Christian Morrison took issue with the fact that the DEP officials apparently lied and did not perform the appropriate inspections.

"'This community has lost faith in DEP and this just doesn't help,' he said."

Ben Price, Projects Director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, the organization that helped draft the Packer Township Ordinance said, "Once again, the people living within Pennsylvania municipalities have concluded that they must rely on themselves, and assert their right to govern locally on issues that directly impact the local community and environment. In the face of an apparent State policy of covering up and enabling waste hauling corporations to wield unjust law against Pennsylvanians and profit at the expense of our communities, Pennsylvanians are standing up."

Passage of this Ordinance is especially significant at this time, since the Pennsylvania Attorney General is suing neighboring East Brunswick Township for adopting a similar Ordinance. Acting as private litigator for agribusiness and sludge corporations, under authority of a State statute lobbied for heavily by these industries, the PA Attorney General recently filed a legal brief requesting the court overturn East Brunswick's Ordinance without giving the community its day in court. In that brief, the top law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania made this unequivocal statement his core argument for nullifying the local law: "There is no inalienable right to local self-government."

It's a point of view we see played out every day in communities across Pennsylvania and the United States. By enacting their new Ordinance, the community government of Packer Township has outshone its State counterpart by recognizing that the consent of the governed is a prerequisite for just governments and law.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, located in Chambersburg, has been working with people in Pennsylvania since 1995 to assert their fundamental rights to democratic self-governance, and to enact laws which end destructive and rights-denying corporate action aided and abetted by state and federal governments.

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