Monday, June 29, 2015

Requiem for Pennsylvania: A frack pad in the middle of a state forest. But in truth, it's just a chunk-o-catastrophe waiting for more.

Anadarko Pad 23783, Cop Tract 285, Pad E, Coudersport Pike. Grugan Township, Clinton County, PA
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee, 6.26.15

Bitter? You bet, and you should be too.
Lest we forget what Pennsylvania has now become--the poster child for a successful and virtually total industrial colonization.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee, 6.26.15
Here's your "new" and irreparable (unless you like grass-n-gravel) Tiadaghton State Forest--otherwise known as the "Land of Anadarko"; well, otherwise known as "gone.

And these are the happy days. Once (A) the pipelines are built, and (B) TPP begins to take effect, we'll all be nostalgic for the "good old days" before the corporate oligarchy.

The saddest part is that we COULD have put up a real fight--some absolutely DID.

But I think it's too late now--at least for Pennsylvania. What could have been a genuine movement was co-opted early on--no doubt before I ever realized it in those Halcyon days when I thought--I now realize stupidly--that if people just SAW the pictures I (and many others) were taking--THOUSANDS of pictures of this industrial cancer, they'd be so angry and so galvanized that they'd see through the charlatans looking to use the disaster to bolster (or create) their own careers as pseudo-heros.

But, alas, in the face of a culture hell-bent on resignation (to coal and logging), the faux-saviors were easily able to get a foot-hold--convincing people of what had never been true, namely, that the very system that had opened the floodgates to the gassers could be counted on to protect the citizens.

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee, 6.26.15

So we wasted precious YEARS going through the motions--hearings, FERC, more hearings, industry sponsored events, polite protests on the steps of the Capital Building on a Tuesday at Noon--a few hours of lock-down, some bail here and there. 

One or two tree sits. 

A few louder protests. 

But the lesson is absolutely clear: 

you can't make a movement out of following the rules of the very system that's responsible for the liquidation of your lands, your water, and your children's futures.

There was never any end to this insanity short of siege after siege after siege of an insurgency whose committed members were willing to be water-canoned, pepper-sprayed, and shot.

We were so afraid of being accused of violence that we never seemed to realize that what we had to be willing to do wasn't PERFORM acts of violence--but PERMIT ourselves to be gasser casualties while the world watched. 
The violence is ALL on the industry's side. We just didn't have the guts to do what was necessary to demonstrate this.
Sit down, and not move until they dragged us away by the thousands over and over and over. 

That, I think, is among the most important insights I have had about the difference between a movement and an insurgency.

That the charlatans--and there are entire organizations large and small who merit this description--the Sierra Club, Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, the NRDC, RDA, Clean Water Action, and on and on--could co-opt us into exhausting our time and energy on what could never be other than failures of the efforts of sincere people is, I think, tragic. 

Anadarko Pad 23783, Cop Tract 285, Pad E, Coudersport Pike. Grugan Township, Clinton County, PA
Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee, 6.26.15

That they're STILL able to sucker us is shameful. 

An industry that stands to accrue BILLIONS and BILLIONS more with TPP was never going to do anything but laugh at us until we made them SHOOT us to get out the godamn gas.

That is a basic, I think unequivocal, truth.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Monday, June 15, 2015

Your Help Needed: UK Solidarity and Anti-Fracking Research

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee. Site of Crestwood proposed LNG Storage Facility, Watkin's Glen, NY
October 24th, 2014. For set, see:

*Below is a letter from my friend and fellow insurgent, Kai Heron, University of Sussex, UK.

Dear all, 

Firstly, please let me apologise for the unsolicited email. My name is Kai Heron; I’m an anti-fracking activist and PhD researcher based at the University of Sussex, UK. I have recently been awarded funding toresearch the impact of hydraulic fracturing on communities in the US and the UK. 

As an activist myself, I have a particular interest in resistance to the industry and I have been following the situation in Pennsylvania and NewYork carefully for several years. The Marcellus Shale region’s example has been instrumental to our own struggle with fracking here in the UK. 

I intend to come to the region for a period of months during my PhD.During my time, I will be looking to conduct interviews with activists and community members, experience the wells first hand, and, I hope, to contribute to the struggle in whatever way I can. The project is intended to be for and by activists, it is therefore really important to me that it makes a difference the communities and individuals I work with.  

I have already made contact with several activists in the region but I am looking to create a further network of contacts interested in the project. If this is something that you would be interested in being involved in, have suggestions for the project, or further questions, please contact me at: 

I would also be happy to discuss the project via Skype.

My username is: kaiheron 

It would be a pleasure to hear from you and I hope to meet you in person soon. Warmest regards,

Kai Heron

Friday, June 12, 2015

"I'm glad no one is dead": Williams Pipeline Explosion, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee, 10.13.12, faulty re-welded weld, TRANSCO Pipeline,
CNYOG Compressor Station, Sullivan County, PA
Update 6.18.15: Letter from Kevin Heatley, Restoration Ecologist, 
Press Enterprise, 6.17.15

Pipeline Risk Unacceptable

Pipeline explosions rattle more than just windows in the same way that nighttime home evacuations result in more than just lost sleep.  These are public relations disasters for Williams Pipeline Company – the same firm that wishes to build the 42 inch, high-pressure Atlantic Sunrise pipeline across Pennsylvania.  Given recent events here and across the country, how do you justify subjecting citizens and property owners to the involuntary risk of a catastrophic event?

If you are editor Sachetti of the PE, you trivialize the opposition position as an emotional “...rush to judgement” as if a technical explanation from Williams will be sufficient assurance that future events will not occur.  It also helps if, as editor, you engage in adolescent name-calling and refer to concerned citizens as “greenies” and “anti-energy.”  If you are Gregory Markle (PE letter-to-editor 6/16/2015) you employ ad hominem attacks coupled with the standard logical fallacies and false equivalencies that industry apologists have promulgated for decades.

Markle, for example, improperly compares the risk of driving a car to living within the blast radius of a pipeline. What he fails to realize is that there is a profound difference between voluntary and involuntary risk.  Research into risk tolerance clearly shows that people have a lower risk threshold with respect to allowing the reckless conduct of others to impinge on their safety.  Choosing to skydive is fundamentally different from being pushed out of a plane, regardless of the quality of the parachute.

While a small number of property owners will receive a financial return on the permanent conversion of their land to a pipeline ROW, Willliams is forcing adjacent property owners who live within the “blast zone” (potentially well over 1,000 feet from the pipeline) to involuntarily submit to catastrophic risk. It is also requesting that citizens downwind of any compressor stations involuntarily submit to the chronic risk associated with toxic air emissions.

While there is indeed risk in any endeavor, it is inherently absurd to claim that because we assume some risk we should assume all.  The effect of additional risk may cause harms to increase exponentially rather than arithmetically. It is also absurd to argue, as editor Sachetti is fond of doing, a false “all or nothing” dichotomy.  Opposition to the reckless endangerment of the public health and welfare is not predicated upon living an ascetic existence void of energy consumption.  Arguing that people who drive cars or heat their homes and oppose extreme energy extraction are hypocrites is like chastising someone attempting to lose weight for not going on a starvation diet.

A more intelligent and prudent response to the recent explosion of the Williams Transco pipeline would be to employ the “Precautionary Principle.”  Given the severity of the event and the nature of the risk, the burden of proof falls upon Williams Pipeline Corporation to show that catastrophic ruptures and toxic compressor station emissions will not occur.  Appeals to existing regulations are insufficient given that the regulations pass involuntary risk onto an unsuspecting public. In the interim, to allow the building of a second pipeline is irresponsible.

Kevin Heatley M.E.P.C, LEED-AP
Bloomsburg PA.

Update: 6.17.15: Response to Gregory Markle 
from Wendy Lynne Lee

First, a local gentleman by the name of Gregory Markle went straight for the ad hominems and faulty analogies to try to refute my letter, writing that since, say, living in Tornado Alley is dangerous that living near a pipeline is comparatively safe--so nothing to worry about in William's pipeline explosion near Unityville, PA just last week. 

What Mr. Markle doesn't get, apparently, is that there's a world of difference between voluntary and involuntary risk.

Folks who live in Tornado Alley know that they may be at risk for cyclone activity--they take that on as a voluntary risk. But if, say, you lease YOUR land to Williams, and they build a pipeline that later explodes setting MY house on fire, I have been subjected to an involuntary harm. 

Indeed, I have been made to subsidize with MY house, MY property values, and potentially MY life and health YOUR voluntary risk. And I have been made to do so involuntarily. There's nothing remotely defensible in THAT. Hence, faulty analogy.

Second, Markle claims that my response to the Williams explosion has nothing to do with "concern for human lives," but rather is about "promoting" my "personal politics via fear-mongering." Mr. Markle then says precisely nothing about what these "personal politics" are, but blithely slides right on to falsely report that Williams accident record is just fine since, at least in Pennsylvania no one has died! 

But, we might ask Mr. Markle, if DEATHS are what's required to become wary of Williams plans to build a monster 42 inch pipeline through far more densely populated regions of Columbia County, then why regulate the company at all? 

Mr. Markle as much as admits that pipeline inspection is not what it ought to be (and, of course, better to drive Williams out of the state altogether), when he tells us he "won't go deeply into [his] opinion on government inspectors, but let's just say that for every one who actually has the skills to be in the field doing inspections, there are 10 who should be slogging their way up through the ranks." That's pretty cold comfort for safety, yet Mr. Markle would have us put our faith in a company who didn't even know how long the exploding 24 inch, 1000 PSI pipeline had been in the ground.

Third, on this point about deaths, Mr. Markle implies that because "there is risk in any such endeavor" we must balance that risk against the benefits of natural gas production.

Sounds reasonable--until you realize that what he's really saying is that even though the risks are expected to be borne by people who did not agree to them--for whom they're involuntary--and the benefits accrue to a few already wealthy landowners and, of course, to the tune of billions to Williams, that THAT'S balance enough.

But it's clearly not. Indeed, the only "balance" resides in Williams flush bank accounts.

All of this dithering with Mr. Markle, however, pales in comparison to the embarrassment that Columbia County, PA commissioners ought to be feeling in the wake of this explosion--one that could have taken the lives of the very people who voted these politicians into office.

The photograph below came to me this morning from a friend. I'll let him identify himself should he wish, and I wish to thank him here. It's a letter dated 5.21.15 from Chris--my support is not unconditional!--Young, silent Richard Ridgeway, and equally silent Dave Kovach, thanking Kimberly Bose of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (whose name they misspell as "Rose"(!)) for FERC's support of the 42 inch, 12-1500 PSI monster pipeline set to bi-sect Columbia County.

In it they claim that "Williams has been a good neighbor...respectful of our community," and that they're happy for the county to be a part of the future growth of natural gas.

In other words, they're happy to be a party to subjugating the citizens of Columbia County to the involuntary risk associated with Williams' profit venture.

A last point. Williams will be more than happy to enhance YOUR level of involuntary risk. 

The moment they execute their "right" to eminent domain against landowners who said NO to that risk, they've not only made you an involuntary--COERCED-- subject of your neighbor's decision to convert their property into a right of way, they've made YOU effectively forfeit your own land, drinking water well, health, and potential life to their profit venture. 

Eminent domain is intended for projects that clearly perform a PUBLIC good--like a bridge to an island. 

The gross abuse of eminent domain appropriated by Williams--and endorsed by your elected representatives--is in no fashion whatever a public good. The gas will be shipped to the global markets, and the profits go right into Williams pockets.

A last last point: What states have seen LOADS of gas production, pipelining, export? Louisiana and West Virginia--two of the poorest states in the union. So the next time commissioners Young, Ridgeway, or Kovach tell you about how the Atlantic Sunrise is going to benefit you and your county--tell them that if you wanted to live in West Virginia or Louisiana, you'd move there.


Original Letter to the Editor, the Press Enterprise, 6.12.15, Concerning Williams Pipeline Explosion, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania

To the Editor:

What if that 24 inch, 1000 PSI Williams TRANSCO transmission pipeline explosion—a blast that fired a  “huge boulder” 300 ft., forced evacuation of 60 people, and was heard “miles away”—had been the 42 inch, 1200-1500 PSI Atlantic Sunrise expansion of the TRANSCO Williams wants to build? The one that will intersect a far more populated area throughout Columbia County?

What if you were confronted with that second explosion—potentially double that of Tuesday night’s blast that spread debris hundreds of yards into the tops of trees—and asked to evacuate even though it meant leaving your dog? What if you’d need to transport an elderly parent? What if there’d been a fire? What if you’d just happened to be driving, cycling, or walking near the blast zone?

Mr. Mordan points out that he’s “glad no one is dead.” Me too, but are we really entitled to let that be the end of this when the disaster that might have happened could have taken life?

These are the questions you should direct to commissioner Chris Young who says his support for the Atlantic Sunrise is “not unconditional,” but when queried by concerned citizens demonstrates his support is precisely that: unconditional. Young’s posturing for the sake of protecting his political capital is disingenuous; Kovach’s and Ridgeway’s silence, both staunch cheerleaders for Williams, is equally telling.

Williams’ appalling history of regulatory violation, accident, their effort to deflect responsibility and avoid liability is well-documented. Even more reprehensible is the willingness of local agencies and townships to be bribed by the company’s spare pocket change. Orange Township Secretary/Treasurer Erika Burkhardt, for example, recently sent a letter of thanks to Kimberly Bose, Secretary of FERC, the deceptively named Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for FERC’s support of the Atlantic Sunrise—and the money that will flow from that township’s silence to Kocher Park. Burkhardt writes that “Because of Williams support, Orange Township will be able to improve areas that hold the greatest needs in our community.” What Burkhardt fails to calculate is the prospect that the township’s greatest needs might be a burn unit, an expanded graveyard, or far more voluntary firefighters and expensive equipment.

This smug arrogance, however, appears to belong not only to Burkhardt, but to county commissioners, township supervisors, PE Editor Sachetti, Senator Gordner and Representative Mallard. We seem to be lulled by the mantra of “jobs” as if “jobs” had some magical power demanding our wholesale acquiescence. We’re willing to horse-trade the future of the county for a few paychecks, a spattering of royalties, and some absurd hand-waving at “national security” for a pipeline whose golden gas is headed straight for the global markets. Or maybe we’re just that lazy—happy to ignore the hazard at our doorsteps because Wheel of Fortune’s on.

Maybe folks think that Tuesday night’s explosion just couldn’t affect them, that the Atlantic Sunrise will somehow be safer, that Williams actually gives a damn about anything but the money they’ll get from mid-streaming the gas the industry is prepared to eek out of the ground at literally any cost—so long as it’s not theirs’.

Williams record is clear: they’ll do everything they can to cover this up, avoid investigation, and make sure you don’t know diddly about the causes. They’ll hale local firefighters and reassure us “there’s nothing to see”—until we forget. Until next time. Here’s a question: What will it take for our electeds to decide to care about us? I’m glad no one died, but if that’s what it takes, we’ve acceded to moral bankruptcy.

Pick up your phones—starting with Young: 570-389-5608.

Wendy Lynne Lee

600 words.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Alianza Mexicana contra el Fracking: Solidarity with Denton

The Letter below is from Alianza Mexicana contra el Fracking. It expresses solidarity with Denton, Texas in their struggle to protect their communities from invasion by the industrial armies of the Hydraulic Fracking Empire. 

For more concerning the struggle in Denton, please see:

NoFrackingMX | Alianza Mexicana Contra el Fracking

Denton Fracking Ban | StateImpact Texas

10 Reasons to Ban Fracking in Denton | Defend the Ban

Defend the Ban

Texas House approves 'Denton Fracking Bill'

Dissecting Denton: How a Texas City Banned Fracking | The Texas Tribune

We, the undersigned organizations, all members of Alianza Mexicana contra el Fracking, express our solidarity with the citizens of Denton, Texas who have taken it upon themselves to resist the highly questionable overturning of their rights to a healthy environment, to clean air and to clean drinking water.  

 The fact that the majority of Denton´s citizens voted to prohibit fracking in their community in light of the unbearable living conditions it has brought upon them, and that a long-standing legal tradition of municipal rights was summarily overturned by the state´s executive branch is reprehensible.   Such an act reflects the degradation of democracy and the imposition of a new, totalitarian order that strives to place corporate profits above human rights and human and environmental health.  It demeans “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, the very ideas on which the United States was founded. 

We support the citizens of Denton and people anywhere on the planet who strive to create a healthier, democratic and more just world for all. ¡No al Fracking!  ¡Ni aquí, ni allá!  ¡Ni hoy, ni nunca! 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Switchie-Poo-Pie, Switchie-Poo-Pie, Switchie-Poo-Pie, My Kitty Ballerina

Photo, Wendy Lynne Lee
I met Miss Switch--Switchie-Poo-Pie, as I came to call her-- when she was but a few weeks old. She was the companion-kitty of my son, Lindsay.  He had called me in panic because she was desperately ill, limp, and unmoving. Within a matter of minutes, I found myself thinking she was dead in my lap as I drove frantically trying not to look down to the animal hospital. 

"Tiny, white, fluffy thing," I just kept thinking. "Tiny, white, fluffy thing." "Please don't die in my lap." 

"Please don't die."

She was breathing--but barely, and I think many might have decided to let her go once they saw the diagnosis: feline leukemia--a death sentence for cats far and wide.

She was so tiny. Possibly a pound; possibly not.

After weeks of treatment--intravenous fluids and medicine, shaved legs, and bruised veins--and weight-gain recovery time so that she could stand, Miss Switch lived. 

A debt of gratitude is owed to some of the most important people on the planet--veterinarians, vet. techs., and some very compassionate veterinary hospital worker-folks. I could not have been more grateful.

Miss Switch went home to Lindsay, and for years I saw her just now and again. The trauma of her early kitten life had made her skittish and retiring--the kitty you just don't see, but wish you could.

Then one day, about six years ago--Miss Switch came to live with me, five other kitties, six doggies, two parrots, an Amazon Green Iguana, and a cockatiel named "Bird."

You'd have thought that this menagerie--really a refuge for the disabled and/or elderly and/or just not that good-lookin' critters in need of a home--would have struck terror into the heart of this tiny ballerina of a kitty cat.

And for nearly two years Switch--now, Switchie-Poo-Pie--lived on a shelf in the bathroom with her own bed, her blankie, and her window--gazing at me while I brushed my teeth, got ready for school, thought about my classes. 

For two years she gazed down at the other five cats--Fiona, Rosie, Madeleine, Tess, and Denver--with wary contemplation. She listened to doggies--Cordy, Charlotte, Jackson, Disney, Mr. Luv-Lyte, and Ella-Mae--with curious, but very guarded, interest barking downstairs, barking out in the yard. 

She'd tip-toe down in the night to eat and use the kitty box, but by dawn, there she was--in her appointed place on the shelf, as if she were reporting for duty, guarding the bathroom window, making sure errant birds didn't get in.

Then one late afternoon, Switchie-Poo-Pie got down.

Just like that.

And not only did she get down from the bathroom shelf, she strolled right out onto the stair-landing, and pranced down the stairs to the big-old, beat-up sideboard directly at the bottom.

We were all flabbergasted.

Did she have a brain tumor? Did something befall her shelf-home?

No--it seemed that Switchie-Poo-Pie had simply decided that two years in self-seclusion was enough, that there was a world out there to explore, and that it began with a survey of the living room.

From that day on, Miss Switch was the undisputed leader of the cat-world in my house. Undaunted by either kitties or doggies, until the middle of last week she was jumping the upstairs gate to the cat-sanctuary room, leaping in ballerina-style from the stairs to the sideboard, going nose to nose smell-check with a relative newcomer to the house--Jenny the Three-Legged Greyhound Wonder Dog, and positively taunting my small-jumping-slightly crazy Maltese Bischon--Mr. Luv-Lyte.

And then in the middle of last week, Miss Switchie-Poo-Pie, now thirteen--and having lived far longer than even the most generous of predictions given her rough start--was no longer able to leap the gate, dance on the sideboard daring the dogs, or fly up to her shelf-home.

Kidneys, as I have often reported, are the most damnably convincing evidence on the planet that there is no god.

Miss Switch had been on a very disciplined regimen for about ten months of injectable kidney-medication, fancy kitty-kidney food, and fancy-canned-kitty-kidney food.

But kidneys are like glass slippers--you can walk in them for years, but they're still made of crystal. 

In any case, the details don't really matter.

What does matter is that while she could not ascend to her shelf-home, her other favorite place was next to the bathtub--where she and I played "splash-the-kitty" for years. 

Here's the game: Switchie-Poo-Pie would glide defiantly up onto the bathtub ledge, and dare me--as if I were Mr. Luv-Lyte--to, well, move.

I'd spritz some bath-water in her direction, and she'd skeeter off before it could as much as graze her sparkly fluffy tail. 

I'd turn to wash my hair, and there she'd be on the bathtub ledge again--as if it were her fashion show cat-walk.

And Switchie-Poo-Pie was beee-u-ti-ful

Glassy pale green eyes, fluffy fur white as the first Winter snow, pink nosed elegant aristocratic kitty-ballerina.

So, her second favorite place was next to the bathtub. And that's where we arranged her bed early yesterday morning when Switchie-Poo-Pie could no longer stand.

I thought back to that tiny pile of white fluff in my lap; only this time, there was no magical veterinarian that could save her.

No pain. No suffering. No shortage of kisses. 

The last sounds Miss Switch heard--other than the sumptuous sounds of a house full of animal life--were the tinkling notes of the "Switchie-Poo-Pie Song":

"Switchie-Poo-Pie, Switchie-Poo-Pie,  
Love, Love Love,
Switchie-Poo-Pie, Switchie-Poo-Pie."

Miss Switch is buried under a lovely maple tree next to Fiona, Rosie, Madeleine, and Mr. Luv-Lizard. She, like they, will become the leaves, the bark, the life of that tree.

I could hope for no better for myself.

Good night my sparkling elegant kitty-ballerina.

Love. Love. Love.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Open Letter from David Lauer: Send a Strong Signal for the Energy Transition Worldwide with a Ban on Fracking in Germany

PLEASE NOTE: This is a rough translation of the original letter that is written in German. The English version of the letter will not be sent to German Members of Parliament.

To: The Members of the Committee for the Economy in the German Parliament, The Members of the Committees for the Environment in the German Parliament,

Berlin, 5 June 2015

To whom it may concern,

The Environment Committee of the Federal Council has advocated on 22 April 2015 to prohibit "the breaking of rock under hydraulic pressure for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons". Nevertheless, the federal government wants to essentially hold on to their current bill and allow fracking in Germany. Since Germany is perceived as a leader in protecting the climate and environment worldwide, the German legislation also is a strong signal for other countries. Particularly in countries of the global South, the use of fracking is accompanied by severe environmental and social impacts. We therefore urge you to ban fracking in Germany and to thus send a strong signal in favour of the energy transition - in Germany and worldwide.

To still limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, two thirds of the world's known fossil fuels must remain in the soil according to the International Energy Agency. The development of new deposits by Fracking runs counter this target. The fracking boom in the US has led to a sharp decline in oil prices worldwide, thus reducing the incentive to promote climate-friendly alternatives. The poorest countries and population groups suffer most from the consequences of climate change.

This holds equally true with regard to fracking: Some of the largest shale reservoirs worldwide are located in developing and emerging countries, often in extremely dry and earthquake-prone regions. The use of fracking does not only directly compete with the supply of drinking water or agricultural irrigation, but can also trigger violent earthquakes. In addition, there are conflicts over the use of land, often with indigenous populations.

In Germany, the potential for shale oil and natural gas is relatively low. The exploitation of unconventional deposits in Germany would afford neither a crucial contribution to security of supply, nor would it lead to falling gas prices or significant impulses on employment in this country. The Advisory Council on the Environment therefore concludes that the extraction of shale gas in Germany cannot be justified with energy policy reasons. Given the large environmental, health, climate and development risks, we urge you as a member of the Environment/Economy in the German Parliament to ban fracking in Germany and to thereby send a strong signal for the energy transition - in this country and worldwide.

Yours sincerely,

Name Here

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Some Philosophical Observations About "Community Rights," Pipeline Fights, and "Rights of Nature"

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee, 5.15.15

***Additional update: In some further correspondence with my friend about issues internal to the ideology of CELDF, I was finally compelled to say this:

You can tell yourself--indeed, folks at NCRN, CELDF, PA CRN can tell themselves that the community rights model is without parallel, that it represents precisely how things ought to be. It has many many virtues--but it is not without serious deficits in an age where the consequences of the actions of some--corporations--reach well beyond communities, indeed, to the planet itself. A loose confederation of communities--of NIMBY fiefdoms--will not mitigate climate change, will not prevent an outbreak of infectious disease, will not thwart terrorism, will not prevent war, will not put a stop to human trafficking. These vital issues demand communication across communities--across the globe. And if we fail to address them globally, communities will eventually cease even to be fiefdoms--they'll simply be annihilated in wars fought over water, land, and fuel. There are communities in Mad Max--but no one wants to live in them.
And that's about as clear as it gets, I think. The rights of communities to self-determination are surely values worth fighting for--but they are not intrinsically valuable such that community self-determination overrides the rights of others--wherever they are--not to be harmed or disenfranchised by that self-determination. 

**UPDATE: I recently received a very thoughtful email missive from a friend concerned with my criticism of CELDF. The tone of the missive suggested that anyone who generally supports the concept of community rights and charters ought to treat CELDF and its recently formed outreach arm--the Community Rights Network--as a sort of sacred cow beyond the pale of critique. That I certainly cannot do--and none of us ought to trek that route. Indeed, any organization that's unable to address the reasoned questions and criticisms of the very citizens it would claim to represent is doomed to atrophy from within, and in CELDF's case risks the appearance of a sophisticated NIMBY-ism dressed up as community rights codified in charters and ordinances. To be very clear: I think CELDF does some very fine work, and I also think it has some real work to do on at least two fronts relevant to the essay below: 

(1) When does the appropriate response to a global issue trump the rights of communities to self-determination? CELDF's answer here seems to be "never." But this opens itself up to a cornucopia of objection not the least of which is that climate change demands an orchestrated global response. A community of climate change deniers does not have the right to contribute to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gasses. A community of vaccination-avoiders does not have the right to make other people's children vulnerable to measles.  A community of animal-body eaters does not have the right to expose other communities to the massive pollutants of their factory farm cultivation, execution, and waste disposal processes. Minimally, where the issues are a matter of public health, communities do not have the right to expose other communities or individuals to activities that threaten the public health--especially when that public is global.

(2) "Rights of nature" is very very vague. Does it include the rights of nonhuman animals not to suffer unnecessarily? does it refer to nature external to my body or internal to it? Does it  refer only to nature--like the Ecuadorian Amazon--that's relatively pristine? Does it include urban parks? CELDF must get clearer about this if this idea is going to have any legitimacy within a community ordinance. The evidence that it is not clear is CELDF's support of a chicken bar-b-que fundraiser to generate funds to defend against the incursion of a pipeline. This is self-defeating, and it risk hypocrisy.

While I am not going to reveal the writer's name, sex, or affiliation, I am gong to post my answers to the questions of the missive I mentioned above. I have altered the questions so as to avoid quotation:

1. The writer suggests that my essay below is an effort to damage CELDF. I respond thusly:

There is a world of difference between "seeking to damage a thing" and raising important questions. I am clearly engaged in the latter. There are truly serious tensions between the rights of communities and our responsibilities, individually and collectively, to issues that exceed any community's geographical, political or cultural boundaries. Both pipelines and climate change exemplify these issues. As I said several times in the piece, I respect the CR approach greatly--and I do. But if waging community struggles for self-determination is going to mean more than the assertion of NIMBY interests, CELDF/CRN MUST confront the sorts of questions I raise in the piece. It is otherwise going to gradually but inexorably be reduced to the defense of competing fiefdoms--and that's not what any of us meant by community rights.

2. The writer asks the following question--rephrased to doubly respect the writer's anonymity: "If CELDF's aim is to teach communities how to defend themselves from the corporations and stand up for their constitutional liberties so that they can define their communities for themselves, wouldn't it be hypocrisy for CELDF or the National Community Rights network to try to make a community follow a rigid notion of "sustainable"?" 

My response: 

The answer here is a resounding NO. Here's why: anthropogenic climate change is well-established in the scientific literature. Moreover, it's consequences present and future are clearly global. No community has the right to enact charters, statutes, laws that clearly conflict with the well-established science when their laws--say a community of climate change deniers--then allow them to engage in activity--say factory farming--that will produce negative consequences for other communities and persons--in this case the global community. Here's an analogy: Does a community have the right as a community to structure its public school science curricula to teach that the earth is flat? No. Why? Because the earth is not flat, and in teaching so false a doctrine people--especially children--will be harmed. Ditto for evolution. Ditto for vaccines. The principle is this: However much a value is the right to self-determination for a community, that does not imply that the rights of communities exceeds the rights of individual human beings, nonhuman animals, or ecosystems. No community has the right to realize its desire for self-determination where the established potential for harm to others within and without that community is significant.

3. The writer refers to a rigid definition of "sustainable.""

My response:

I am not sure what you mean by  "rigid definition of sustainable," but what I do know is two things: (A) we don't need "iron clad" to demonstrate to us that if we continue to emit greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere we and futures generations of "we" will suffer greatly. We know that any industrial scale extraction or animal agricultural operation does emit greenhouse gasses. Therefore, the minimal definition of "sustainable" must include curtailing the emission of greenhouse gasses--that is the sine qua non of "sustainable," and that in no way guarantees a future that's desirable. (B) "Rigid" is fallacious appeal to straw argument--it sets up a distorted, easy to dismiss--version of an argument, and this is frequently used by the climate change deniers who insist that "the science is not settled." Their reasoning is absurd. No science is ever settled. But that does not prevent us from, for example, administering antibiotics,  sending probes to the moon, or tracking the processes of photosynthesis. Climate change is no different. Hence communities have a clear moral duty to act to mitigate it.

4. The writer asks: "how could it be acceptable to only agree to help a community to keep out something like a pipeline if their members are all vegan?"

My response:

Let me turn this around: Given their explicit and heavily promoted commitment to rights of nature, how can CELDF represent any community who is not vegan/vegetarian? This is manifest hypocrisy. Unless CELDF can give a convincing principled argument that rights of nature precludes the rights of nonhuman animals not to suffer unnecessarily, this is a serious problem. Moreover, it's not only about this commitment--it's also about the effects of factory farming. A community that tacitly condones factory farming by have a bar-b-que fundraiser in fact is caught in a plain contradiction--and their actions are NIMBY: they want to stop a harm for their community, but are unconcerned with the consequences of animal agriculture for other communities. This is a cake neither the community nor CELDF can have and eat too. It undermines their credibility, and puts the lie to their commitment to rights of nature. Indeed, it makes the appeal to rights of nature look more like an advertising strategy than a principled moral value.

I would welcome a response from members of CELDF. Indeed, their mission is certainly advanced through this variety of respectful public discourse. Addressing observations, questions, and criticism is how worthwhile organizations demonstrate their commitment and their capacity for thoughtful exchange to their members and future members. I hope CELDF/CRN will take this opportunity and rise to the occasion. We would all be benefitted--especially the communities CELDF purports to defend--if they did.

*The following is a set of observations posted on a Lancaster On-Line article, written by Ad Crable

What is track record of community-rights ordinances sought by some in Conestoga and Martic townships? - LancasterOnline: Local News

There are certainly many very important issues here--the pipeline being one, but not the only one.

First, and most importantly, what is at stake is the fundamental idea that communities have a right to self-determination. At one level, this seems obvious, and clearly consistent with the democratic ideal that a community--as a body of voting members--ought to be able to determine the character and ordinance structure of that body. There is much to recommend this. But it also must be said that if a community is going to uphold equality and justice as essential governing principles, it must--must--act not only in its own interest, but that of communities affected by its decisions. Although the CELDF/Community Rights Network aims certainly do not oppose these principles, there's also little particularly explicit in their current presentation that emphasizes their significance. And this does matter--greatly. 

For example, what prevents Community X along the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline ROW from enacting a CR ordinance, and then determining that what's in their best interest is hosting the pipeline? Perhaps they decide that since their township is, say, an unlikely site for a Compressor and their not really in drilling country, that their monetary gains outweigh the risk from potential pipeline explosions or leaks? What if this is a relatively poor and small township--and Williams has offered them some substantial bribe? It is a bribe--and we all know it. But that's not really the point. The point is that what in the current CELDF promotion of a charter--something Community X has adopted--prevents Community X from deciding something that is manifestly damaging to Community Y? 

And to be clear--I have enormous respect for the community rights approach--but I also can see plainly that it is not a panacea for solving the tremendously serious issues we face with respect to the environmental costs of the gas company buildout--cost that outweigh in important respects the capacities of any community--some which simply do demand an approach BIGGER than any community.

Second, CELDF's perfectly reasonable response to my critique here might be this: Community charters ought to be drafted consistent with these principles--equality and justice, and the "rights of nature." Any charter not so drafted is not adequately democratic and does not expand rights. 

Well and good. 

But this does not and cannot go nearly far enough.

Here's why:

A community--and we have copious examples--can absolutely agree to these principles, AND determine that they apply to some who then count as members while others do not. A community can decide, for example, that the criteria for membership depends on sex, ethnicity, gender, or species status. CELDF can rightly decry this as discrimination--but without clear criteria for determining what/who counts as a member, "expansion" remains elusive. Let me give a specific example: If my understanding is correct, one township on the pipeline corridor recently held a chicken Bar-b-que to raise money for its community rights efforts. 


But this effectively makes a determination that nonhuman animals are not to be accounted as members with any right to equality in any respect in their particular vision of "Community." This stands in direct conflict with CELDF's specific referencing to "rights of nature." Or: If chickens are not to be counted as community members in any sense--minimally that they have a right not to be killed unnecessarily, then this township has a duty to explain as a part of their understanding of their own charter whyThe upshot is clear: It's one thing to talk about justice and equality. It's another to enact it as a chartered part of a community's forward-moving structure. 

And WHO is to count is as essential to that charter as it could possibly be. Moreover, if the meaning of "expansion" does not include very explicit and clear language concerning one community's relationship to others affected by its chartered decisions, it's hard to see how conflicts will be resolved. 

Let me offer one more example here: let's say that the township that held the chicken Bar-b-que sold chicken raised at a factory farm. What that means in effect is that while they oppose a pipeline, they do not oppose factory farming--at least chickens. In addition to this seeming very inconsistent with their concern for the health and welfare of their own community members--since animal agriculture is a far more serious immediate and long-term health hazard for people in and out of that community--it is clearly not in keeping with any concern for the health and welfare of people in other communities who may very well be affected by, say, Tyson's proposal to build a factory farm in that county. 

How does CELDF litigate between the community who--at least judging by their behavior-- is comfortable with the prospect of factory farms and the community who opposes them? Perhaps this seems apples and oranges with pipelines--but it manifestly is not. VOCs wafting from compressor stations and toxic pollutants wafting from factory farms across relatively wide distance on a breezy day affect folks outside the community where the specific facility is located. How does a community rights charter deal with this? To be clear again--I favor the community rights approach. But it has begun to worry me greatly that some really deep-going and fundamental issues have not seen the light of day.

Third, there is much to be said about the meaning of "rights of nature." But if CELDF is really committed to that principled idea, how does it sanction a community that has a Chicken Bar-b-que to raise money to wage its community rights campaign? This strikes me as a tad bit mercenary. That is, is CELDF so committed to a win in this community that it is willing to sacrifice a central tenet of its platform in order to advance that community's charter? I don't know the answer here--but what I do know is that CELDF is caught in a Queen's fork:

1. If what CELDF means by "community rights" necessarily includes nonhuman nature and animals, then it cannot attach its name to an event that violates the rights of nonhuman animals (especially factory farm animals whose lives have been nothing but misery). That includes chickens. 

2. If what CELDF means by "community rights" is negotiable around nonhuman animals, it's negotiable around human animals. Hence nothing prevents a community from writing a charter that converts women to sex slaves or any other group of people into subservients. 

3. If CELDF's response here is that ALL charters must recognize at least people equally, fine--but then it must remove its references to rights of nature. 
4. If CELDF removed the references to rights of nature, any and all cases against factory farms, and gas company activity including pipelines is seriously weakened since a crucial part of the fight against the latter industry was premised on environmental considerations.

Fourth, I appreciate greatly CELDF's Chad Nicholson's point that people are tired of having no options. But the fundamental fact here is that while a community charter is at least potentially better than the township structure that clearly privileged corporations--CELDF is right on the money here--it will still mean very little unless the community members empowered by the charter are willing to actively defend it. And with respect to the pipeline, that could mean a siege--very much like the defense at Crestwood at Lake Seneca. In other words, there is NO charter, ordinance, law, policy--anything--that's going to keep out that pipeline without the willingness of citizens across the Pipeline ROW to join with others from neighboring communities with their bodies to defend it.

I make this obvious point as another way of expressing the crucial observation about cross-community communication and organization. This could not be more essential than with a pipeline. Moreover, while it is certainly in the interest of CELDF as an organization looking to advance a highly laudable campaign to re-empower citizens over corporations in the U.S.--a campaign for which I applaud them--it is another thing for particular communities to be the effective test cases in the service of that larger objective. 

It is no doubt true that there's no other way to get to that larger objective than through communities adopting charters. But that does not mean and cannot mean that particular communities can be sacrificed along the way. CELDF MUST take on the responsibility of standing with the communities they offer to assist--and if these mean great sums of free legal service, pepper spray in the face, arrests, then so be it. There's no revolution without revolutionaries.

And I put it this way not to by incendiary, but to make it clear that CELDF's premises about the powers of corporations trumping those of private citizens is absolutely on the money--but what taking back what is rightfully ours means IS nothing short of a revolutionary objective. We need to be and have a right to be clear about what this morally defensible objective is.

Fifth, and lastly, it bears repeating a thousand times that there is no reason whatever to believe that FERC has any other interest but permitting this pipeline. Register objections. Absolutely

But only because we have the right to an historical record where we have clearly said no to this incursion on our rights and our lands. FERC WILL approve this pipeline. Make no mistake about it. Township supervisors WILL be bribed into silence about it. County Commissioners--ditto. 

A charter may be the beginning of your assertion of your right to clean air and water--but it cannot be more than that. 

Pittsburgh's charter is commonly referred to as a successful example of where a community rights approach has been successful. I would caution us all to be thinking about this. No gas company was going to risk drilling in Pittsburgh. The hazards were far too great, the outcry too loud. 

Rural communities are a very different animal. Fewer people, more bribable old boy township boards and county structure--lots of sparsely populated land. Our lives just don't rate as highly--and so it is doubly important for communities to band together.

But that is precisely what raises the first set of questions I have posed here.

Put differently: many issues lend themselves to a community rights approach. But some--and especially where the issues have global consequences--are not as obvious a fit. 

Any industry as intimately connected to the emission of greenhouse gasses is one. The reason why is because what one community does in choosing for any bit of gas infrastructure contributes to climate change. 

In other words, it's a fairly easy thing to stand up for the rights of one's own community. It's a far harder thing to see the implications of one's community for the global community. 

A collection of independent communities, each with their own charters no matter how humane and thoughtful, does not necessarily make a sustainable--much less desirable--future for the planet.