The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, or CELDF, is an extremely radical, downright freaky, organization that survives on naive environmentalism.
There are few fractivist groups more radical or freaky than the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). We’ve written about them several times, including here, here and here, all of which are important to read to get a full understanding of just how freaky the organization is. They’re the folks who propose to overrule the Patriot Act, abolish corporations and grant plants and trees the right to sue, all by township ordinance.
They’re aim is obvious by one of the website addresses they use, which, revealingly, happens to be celdf.live2.radicaldesigns.org, and they latch onto any issue of the day to promote their radical agenda, which is nothing less than a political revolution. The CELDF strategy is to con others into supporting that agenda by clothing it in the language of “rights” preceded by whatever adjective (“community,” “water,” “nature”) works for the controversy at hand and fracking is simply one of those.
The “Water Rights” Cover for the CELDF’s Radical Designs
Imagine my disgust, then, when someone on a local planning committee, on which I also serve, offered up three sample “water rights ordinances” drafted by the CELDF for consideration (along with a U.N. declaration apparently intended to supply justification). The ordinances are the typical claptrap produced by the CELDF, all starting off with a bunch of high-sounding rhetoric about the importance of protecting water to lure in the naive. They then quickly proceed into the Constitution-superseding language that constitutes the real thrust of the regulations.
The three examples all came from Maine; specifically the Towns of Newfield, Shapleigh and Wells, all located in York County on the border with Massachusetts, midway between Boston and Portland (need I say much more) where there has been a steady influx of “more suburban, affluent and liberal” types from the Bay State. This is vividly illustrated by Census data for 2008-2012 illustrating where people moving to the county came from, many of whom are retired and don’t need incomes, of course:
Why did they enact these “water rights” ordinances? Their goal was to chase Nestle’s Poland Spring bottled water operations out of the area in this instance. They’ve only been in Maine since 1845 and wanted to expand. The CELDF take on this, which is very revealing, may be found here and for more a honest description of what it’s really all about read the SocialistWorker.org take.
The member of the committee who introduced these “water rights” ordinances tried, unsuccessfully, to convince me they had nothing to do with gas drilling. Nonetheless, there is a tiny grain of truth to the argument. It’s about much more than that, the goal, in the words of CELDF leader Thomas Linzey, being “structural change” – a “journey that will end with new local and state constitutions, and perhaps even the rewriting of the United States Constitution” – “a complete overhaul.”
The CELDF “water rights” ordinances from Maine are nothing more than the convenient vehicle of choice for the moment to make the journey. They use the same sort of language the CELDF uses in all its “rights of nature” and “community rights” ordinances and it forms the basis of the two anti-driling ordinances to which we linked above (from Youngstown, Ohio and Mora County, New Mexico). The CELDF is funded by the Park Foundation, among other fractivist groups, to write this nonsense.
It doesn’t matter how one labels the ordinances, they have the same broader goal. They are designed to fight any development of any sort the radicals at the CELDF happen not to like. That includes anything pursued by a corporation, despite the fact the CELDF itself is organized as a corporation and for the same reasons (personal liability protection, taxes, raising of capital, ability to sue, etc.).
Personhood for Me, But Not for Thee
Here are some of the key paragraphs (similar to those found in all CELDF “rights” ordinances) to illustrate (emphasis added):
We the People of the Town of Wells declare that we have the duty to safeguard the water both on and beneath the Earth’s surface, and in the process, safeguard the rights of people within the community of Wells, and the rights of the ecosystems of which Wells is a part.
We the people of Wells declare that all of our water is held in the public trust as a common resource to be used for the benefit of Wells residents and of the natural ecosystems of which they are a part. We believe that the corporatization of water supplies in this community – placing the control of water in the hands of a corporate few, rather than the community – would constitute tyranny and usurpation; and that we are therefore duty bound, under the Maine Constitution, to oppose such tyranny and usurpation. That same duty requires us to recognize that two centuries’ worth of governmental conferral of constitutional powers upon corporations has deprived people of the authority to govern their own communities, and requires us to take affirmative steps to remedy that usurpation of governing power…
No corporation shall engage in water withdrawals in the Town of Wells. The term “corporation” means any corporation organized under the laws of any state of the United States or any country, or any limited partnership, limited liability partnership, business trust, or Limited Liability Company organized under the laws of any state of the United States or any country. The term “engage” shall include, but not be limited to, the physical extraction of water, and the buying and/or selling of water extracted within the Town of Wells…
No corporation doing business within the Town of Wells shall be recognized as a “person” under the United States or Maine Constitutions, or laws of the United States or Maine, nor shall the corporation be afforded the protections of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution, or the Contracts Clause or Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, or similar provisions found within the Maine Constitution, within the Town of Wells. Corporations shall not be afforded the protections of any international agreement or treaty which would enable the corporation to nullify local laws adopted by the Town of Wells or the people of the Town of Wells…
Natural communities and ecosystems possess unalienable and fundamental rights to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve within the Town of Wells. Ecosystems shall include, but not be limited to, wetlands, streams, rivers, aquifers, and other water systems…
It shall be unlawful for any corporation or its directors, officers, owners, or managers to interfere with the rights of natural communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish, or to cause damage to those natural communities and ecosystems. The Town of Wells, along with any resident of the Town, shall have standing to seek declaratory, injunctive, compensatory, and punitive relief for damages caused to natural communities and ecosystems within the Town, regardless of the relation of those natural communities and ecosystems to Town residents or the Town itself. Town residents, natural communities, and ecosystems shall be considered to be “persons” for purposes of the enforcement of the civil rights of those residents, natural communities, and ecosystems…
…any employee, agent or representative of any State or federal Regulatory Agency, Commission or Board who issues a permit, license, privilege or charter to any person or any corporation operating under a State charter, or any director, officer, owner, or manager of a corporation operating under a State charter, which would violate the provisions of this Warrant Article or deprive any resident, natural community, or ecosystem of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by this Warrant Article, the Maine Constitution, the United States Constitution, or other laws, shall be liable to the party injured and shall be responsible for payment of compensatory and punitive damages and all costs of litigation, including, without limitation, expert and attorney’s fees…
The Selectboard of the Town of Wells or any other agent or agency of the Town shall be prohibited from taking any action to annul, amend, or overturn this Warrant Article; or from taking any action to preempt or supercede this Warrant Article, in whole or in part, by the adoption of any Ordinance, unless such action is approved by a prior Town Meeting at which two-thirds (2/3) of the residents of the Town attending the Town Meeting approve such action.
This is a measure of just freaky and radical the CELDF is. It not only proposes to supersede every other authority at every level of government, but also the authority of any future local governing body unless there is a two-thirds majority. It proposes to recognize recognize natural communities and ecosystems as legal persons, but not corporations the courts have recognized as such since 1819 based on a case brought by Daniel Webster. It would give plants unalienable rights and literally anyone the legal standing to speak for them.
They propose that no corporation engage in water withdrawals, which not only means no water bottling or gas drilling (the two ostensible purposes toward which these ordinances are directed), but also no water well drilling by any incorporated business unless, of course, its a non-profit corporation (like the CELDF, of course), a municipal authority or a utility. This would rule out a new tool and die manufacturer employing 10 people, a branch bank serving a rural community or a hotel if they were proposed by incorporated entities for sites outside the reach of public water systems.
An Unenviable Track Record
Imagine the chaos – political, legal and otherwise – that would result from actually trying to enforce such ordinances. Well, you don’t have to imagine, we have Mora County, New Mexico’s experience. Their “Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance,” written in the same language as the Maine versions, has resulted in multiple lawsuits and political convulsions. It has already been partly repealed due to the obvious legal problems and is expected to be fully repealed next year. Meanwhile, the CELDF, which promised to defend the ordinance when pushing it, reportedly “has left New Mexico for greener pastures.”
There’s good reason the CELDF left town, though. Where they have attempted to defend these ordinances, they’ve lost. Their latest corporate 990 return filed with the IRS (for 2012) indicates they were involved in three legal battles and lost all three times. The following is how they say they did in another “community rights” case, this one aimed at coal (emphasis added):
On June 28, 2012, the Bellingham, Washington City Council filed suit against the No Coal! organization, seeking a declaratory judgment from the Whatcom County Court of Common Pleas that would keep a duly-qualified initiative from appearing on the Bellingham City ballot. That initiative, a Community Bill of Rights that banned coal shipments within the City, was duly qualified via signature gathering and had satisfied other procedural requirements. The Legal Defense Fund served as co-counsel to a Washington-licensed attorney, in his representation of the No Coal! organization. Following the Whatcom County’s ruling against the organization, the Legal Defense Fund assisted with the appeal that was then filed. The appellate court affirmed the lower court ruling.
Each of the three losses, which are preceded by other losses in previous years, are explained away as being in the public interest, no doubt because Linzey wants to protect the tax-exempt status of his corporation, but also because, as Linzey told Mother Jones:
“You treat the courts as a means to building an army,” he says—one that will eventually lead to overhauls of state constitutions, and finally the federal one.”
Yes, this is the real goal of all these “rights” ordinances being used to fight fracking, water bottling and anything else that people like Linzey suppose we shouldn’t do. They are interested in these issues, but only tangentially. Their real goal is power for themselves, not the people they deign to speak for, and their aim, just like that every other radical is to seduce the naive into giving them the power with sweet talk about water and the natural environment and then to impose restrictions that make it impossible to vote them out of power. That’s because they are radicals and the CELDF is as freaky a radical group as will be found. Let no one be deceived by their self-described “radical designs.”
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