Learn from those who fight for nature’s rights

  • Tue Nov 28th, 2017 1:27pm
  • Life

By Elisabeth Robson and Kai Sanburn

Special to the Weekly

Here’s a question: How much power do residents of the San Juans have to protect our way of life, out here in the middle of the Salish Sea? More broadly, how do regional folk, here and everywhere, begin to organize and defend themselves against large-scale threats to home and health?

Across North America, people have learned the hard way that when an oil pipeline, refinery or export terminal — or an industrial fish farm, or a rare-metal mining operation — wants to set up shop next door, they have few legal options with which to defend themselves. Once a big, corporate-sponsored project is approved at the state or federal level, local jurisdictions have little recourse.

For instance, a tiny town in rural Pennsylvania said no to the poisonous effects of a fracking wastewater project but found it had no say in the permitting and regulatory (and compensatory) processes. Midwest farmers are finding they can’t protect their fields from eminent-domain routing of leaky oil pipelines. In Canada, the Tsleil-Waututh and other First Nations, and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby, have filed suits against the federally approved TransMountain (Kinder Morgan) pipeline and marine terminal expansion that would expedite Asia-bound shipments of Alberta tar sands. That fight, to keep carbon fuels in the ground and defend the Salish Sea against more exposure to pollutants, continues.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is a team of lawyers working around the country to advance legal recognition of community rights — and what it calls “the rights of nature.” Its aim is to provide new legal tools that can enhance community-based democratic, economic, social and environmental stewardship. Its strategic path is bottom-up according to its mission statement, “building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal and international levels.”

On Thursday, Nov. 30, Spokane-based CELDF (“cell-def”) staff attorney Kai Huschke, Northwest and Hawaii Community Organizer, will be on Lopez to talk about the organization and how its legal strategies can work in the Salish Sea, including a survey of current hot-button issues. Huschke’s talk takes place at Grace Church Hall on Thursday, Nov. 30, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Curt Sanburn contributed to this article.