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For Immediate Release

Contact

Kai Huschke, Community Organizer, kai@celdf.org

Press Release

Rights of Nature, Rights of the People vs. State-Authorized Corporate Toxic Practice in Front of Oregon Courts

Oral arguments for reinstating the aerial pesticide spray ban and on the rights of the Siletz River ecosystem in Lincoln County are scheduled for the Oregon Court of Appeals on June 1.
WASHINGTON -

Arguments on the assertion of local democracy over state-sanctioned corporate public health violations and a Rights of Nature law will be presented on June 1. For over two years, the Freedom from Aerially Sprayed Pesticides Ordinance of Lincoln County successfully banned corporate aerial spraying of pesticides as a violation of natural ecosystems’ rights and people’s rights to clean air, water and soil. The circuit court overturned the ban citing an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model state law that protects corporate polluters from democratically adopted local law. 

Oral arguments will be viewable on June 1 through the Oregon Judicial Department Catalogue (Rex Capri, Wakefield Farms, LLC v. Dana Jenkins, Lincoln County; Lincoln County Case No. 17CV23360): https://oregoncourts.mediasite.com/mediasite/Catalog/catalogs/default

Lincoln County voters adopted the ordinance in May 2017, the first of its kind in the nation. In September 2019, a county circuit court judge nullified the will of the people and overturned the ban, ruling in favor of the timber industry.

“Severely depleted salmon runs and worsening drought conditions in the West continue to expose the need for a paradigm shift in legal relations with ecosystems. In fact, movements to advance the legal rights of ecosystems are blossoming across the continent and globe because of how catastrophically conventional law has failed the planet,” says Kai Huschke, Community Organizer for CELDF.

“Aerial spray of pesticides is illegitimately legalized violence against all life and must stop….Our rights must always override corporate profit,” said Maria Sause, one of the founding members of Lincoln County Community Rights, the group behind the ordinance.

Ecosystems in court

In lower court oral arguments, the attorney representing the Siletz River ecosystem, which appeared through local resident Carol Van Strum, said “We have filed a declaration by a human person, who is a part of that ecosystem just as she would be a member of an organization or association.”

“[Existing environmental laws] have done nothing, they've literally allowed the poisoning to go ahead,” says Van Strum. “From the publication of Silent Spring people have been trying to correct the poisoning of the planet basically; of our air, our water, our soil, our food. There is a good reason she is called Mother Nature. She is the source of all life….We need to give nature the means to say no.”

Van Strum’s battle against the chemical industry was recently profiled in the forthcoming PBS documentary “The People vs. Agent Orange.”

The judge did not allow the rights of the Siletz River watershed to be heard as a separate legal party to the lawsuit, but suggested her decision could be appealed. The judge said, “It absolutely is [an appealable order], and I’m inviting you to, and I said before, I think this is one that will be gaining more interest as opposed to less in the future for all the reasons that you just stated.”

The appeal read, “The ability of ecosystems to participate in lawsuits is not limited by the term ‘person,’ but rather, that term may properly encompass an ecosystem, just as it has come to include corporations and other types of associations….There is no inherent or fundamental right to aerially spray pesticides. In contrast, the ecosystem has a fundamental right to exist and thrive.”

June 1, 2021 oral arguments will present these issues to the Court of Appeals, which will issue an opinion on whether the state law does interfere with local democracy and whether the Siletz River ecosystem can protect its rights in court.

State and corporate interference with local democracy

In overturning the ordinance in 2019, the lower court ruled Oregon’s 1995 Pesticide Control Act removes residents’ control over the pesticide industry. “Corporate actors have engaged in a concerted national strategy to undermine people’s power to protect the health of their communities through self-governance. This case is not only blatantly political, it is functionally state-sanctioned violence against people and nature itself,” said Kai Huschke, Community Organizer for CELDF.  

The law firm Davis Wright Tremaine LLP that is challenging Lincoln County’s ordinance employs a top lobbyist for Oregonians for Food and Shelter, a group funded by chemical giants Monsanto and DuPont. Additionally, CropLife America, a national lobbyist group funded by Monsanto, DuPont and others, waged an ultimately unsuccessful multi-million dollar propaganda campaign against the Lincoln County ordinance, as revealed by The Intercept. These corporations have been found to be members of the corporate American Legislative Exchange Council, which wrote the model language for Oregon’s 1995 Pesticide Control Act, now ORS 634.055 and ORS 634.057

The extensive legal filings include arguments advancing a new theory of local-state relations to prevent state interference with local democracy. They can be found at: http://u.pc.cd/aJj and http://u.pc.cd/20RotalK 

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The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is helping build a decolonial movement for Community Rights and the Rights of Nature to advance democratic, economic, social, and environmental rights–building upward from the grassroots to the state, federal, and international levels.

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