Archive for Pennsylvania

Earth Law Updates – May 11, 2016

From Tom Brenan, Gaia Foundation

Here’s the latest Earth law update:

  • The fifteenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is currently taking place in New York, from 9th to 20th In its ‘Proud to be Indigenous’ weeks, Cultural Survival is aiming to create a storm of online activity to enable the voices of those who are unable to attend the meeting in New York to be heard.
  • The Land Rights Now alliance, a global initiative to secure indigenous and community land rights, was launched in March and already has more than 400 organisations and communities participating. Currently it is estimated that only 10% of lands held collectively are formally recognised as owned or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities. The initiative aims to double this area of land by 2020.
  • Grant Township in Pennsylvania, USA, has passed a law legalising direct action to prevent the fracking wastewater injection wells within the township. The law permits non-violent direct action to enforce the provisions of the Grant Township Community Bill of Rights Ordinance which established rights to clean air and water, the right to local community self-government and the rights of Nature. The proposed well would be a violation of those rights.
  • The Australian Earth Laws Alliance will be holding an evening seminar with a facilitated discussion ‘Exploring Earth Laws, Earth Democracy and the Rights of Nature’ on 20th This is aimed at deepening understanding and enabling support for individual and collective activity.


Pennsylvania farmer protects Rights of Nature through Conservation Easement

In November 2012, Stephen Cleghorn, PhD, a Pennsylvania organic farmer, became the first landowner in the United States to use a conservation easement to recognize the rights of water, forest, and wild ecosystems. The easement bans activities, like shale gas hydrofracking, which would violate those rights, and elevates the rights of nature above the power claimed by extractive energy corporations to despoil the environment.

View the Conservation Easement at The Dr. Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez Conservation Easement

Press Release – November 14, 2012
Paradise Community, Henderson Township, Jefferson County, PA

J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD, a Pennsylvania organic farmer, has become the first landowner in the United States to use a conservation easement (a kind of deed restriction) to recognize, create and protect the Rights of Nature. The easement then bans activities like hydro-fracking for shale gas which would violate those rights, and elevates the Rights of Nature above the power claimed by extractive energy corporations to despoil the environment.

Cleghorn is the owner of Paradise Gardens and Farm– a fifty acre organic farm that sits above the Marcellus Shale formation in Henderson Township, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania.

Cleghorn established the easement in memory of his late wife, Dr. Lucinda Hart-González who died of lung cancer on November 14, 2011. On May 10 of this year Ms. Hart-González’s ashes were scattered on the property and the farm was declared forever inviolate and off-limits to shale gas fracking. The easement is dated as of the first anniversary of her death.

Over the last six months, Cleghorn has worked with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit, Pennsylvania-based law firm, to create an easement which secures the Rights of Nature legally on this property. The Legal Defense Fund has assisted over three dozen municipal governments in eight states to create local laws that recognize the Rights of Nature, and assisted in the drafting of the declaration of rights in the new Ecuadorian Constitution, through which Ecuador became the first country in the world to recognize the Rights of Nature.

Although warned by his lawyer that the easement might reduce his property’s value, Cleghorn states: “It’s not really my property. Nature had it first. Human laws that carve it up into market commodities that can be traded and sold matter less to me than the first rights of Nature. Besides, a recent study showed that shale gas drilling reduces the property value by 24% when that property depends on private water wells as mine does. For me this easement preserves this land for organic farming and protects it from an extreme form of fossil fuel extraction. I know plenty of potential buyers who would go along with those conditions. In the long run as we try to save this planet from us, I think I’ll be just fine on property value.”

Thomas Linzey, the Executive Director of CELDF, applauded Cleghorn’s actions, stating that “the time has come for the corporate ’right’ to destroy the earth be subordinated to the rights of our communities and nature. Stephen’s actions, in honor of his late wife, represent an expansion of the resistance against gas corporations in the State.”

Both Cleghorn and Linzey called on other landowners across the state, in addition to municipal governments, to take action to recognize the rights of communities and nature through both easements and local laws. A new Pennsylvania-based organization, the Terra Conservancy, is being established by CELDF to receive and enforce rights of nature easements.


A New Civil Rights Movement: Liberating Our Communities from Corporate Control

Today’s global Rights of Nature and Rights of Communities over Corporate “Personhood” movement started over a decade ago in Pennsylvania’s heartland.  Thomas Linzey of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund ( has been working in the forefront with these communities.  Read further as Linzey highlights a landmark decision in March 2013 where a Pennsylvania judge holds that corporations are not “persons” under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Community Environmen​tal Legal Defense

A New Civil Rights Movement:
Liberating Our Communities from Corporate Control
A Pennsylvania Judge Holds That Corporations Are Not “Persons”

Under the Pennsylvania Constitution
By Thomas Alan Linzey, Esq., Executive Director
March 28, 2013

To protect small and family farms from industrial factory farms, over a decade ago a handful of Pennsylvania townships picked a fight with some of the country’s largest agribusiness corporations. Recognizing that the state and federal government, rather than protecting them from factory farms, were in fact forcing them into communities, the townships took the unprecedented step of banning corporate farming within their borders.

Thus began the journey to spark a new civil rights movement – one aimed at elevating the right of communities over the “rights” of corporations to use communities for their own ends.

In a departure from the usual David and Goliath story, with one tiny community battling a giant corporation, today there are over 150 “Davids” in eight states that have followed the lead of those Pennsylvania townships. Community by community, they’ve banned corporate “fracking” for shale gas,  factory farming, sludge dumping, large-scale water withdrawals, and industrial-scale energy projects.

But they’re not intent on simply stopping the immediate threat of fracking or factory farming. Rather, they’re adopting Community Bills of Rights that ban such projects as violations of the community’s right to a sustainable energy and farming future. And to protect those Bills of Rights, they are legislatively overturning a slew of corporate legal doctrines – like corporate “personhood” – that have been concocted over the past century to keep communities from interfering with corporate prerogatives.

These communities believe that if ten thousand other localities do the same, that those tremors will begin to shake loose a new system of law – a system in which courts and legislatures begin to elevate community rights above corporate rights, and thus, begin to liberate cities and towns to build economically and environmentally sustainable communities free from corporate interference.

Last week, a Pennsylvania county court gave this new movement a boost – declaring that corporations are not “persons” under the Pennsylvania Constitution, and therefore, that corporations cannot elevate their “private rights” above the rights of people.The ruling was delivered in a case brought by several Western Pennsylvania newspapers which sought the release of a sealed settlement agreement between a family claiming to be affected by water contamination from gas fracking, and Range Resources – one of the largest gas extraction corporations in the state.  Range Resources argued that unsealing the settlement agreement would violate the corporation’s constitutional right to privacy under the Pennsylvania Constitution.

In a landmark ruling, President Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca of the Washington County Court of Common Pleas denied the corporation’s request on the basis that the Pennsylvania Constitution only protects the rights of people, not business entities.

In the ruling, Judge O’Dell-Seneca declared that “in the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.” If corporations could claim rights independent from people, she asserted, then “the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principals, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it.”
She further found that “the constitution vests in business entities no special rights that the laws of this Commonwealth cannot extinguish. In sum, [corporations] cannot assert [constitutional privacy] protections because they are not mentioned in its text.”

Judge O’Dell-Seneca cited sections of the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution in support of her contention that corporations were never intended to be constitutionally protected “persons.” She declared that “an even more dubious proposition is that the framers of the Constitution of 1776, given their egalitarian sympathies, would have concerned themselves with vesting, for the first time in history, indefeasible rights in such entities. . . that language extends only to natural persons.”

Finally, she tackled the very nature of corporations by declaring that “it is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have no ‘spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ‘emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists. . . They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are but grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, and prune at their pleasure and need.”

The court records unsealed by the ruling reveal that Range Resources, and the other corporations which were the subject of the complaint, paid out $750,000 to settle claims of water contamination caused by fracking.

The ruling represents the first crack in the judicial armor that has been so meticulously welded together by major corporations. And it affirms what many communities already know – that change only occurs when people begin to openly question and challenge legal doctrines that have been treated as sacred by most lawyers and judges.

It is that disobedience – of entire communities sitting at lunch counters demanding to be served – that is our only hope of salvation in a world increasingly commandeered by a small handful of corporate decisionmakers intent on remaking the world as their own.

A revolution that subordinates the powers and rights of corporations to the rights of people and nature now waits in the wings. Perhaps now, we’re ready to move it to center stage.

For a printable pdf visit: A New Civil Rights Movement:
Liberating Our Communities from Corporate Control