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Corporations’ rights need to be reined in

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In the face of Mora County’s victory in adopting an ordinance to ban fracking (and other industries with the potential for irreparable environmental harm), as American citizens, we should feel empowered to defend our communities. Instead, we continue to hear a lot of saber-rattling from those who fear the potential threat of corporate lawsuits stemming from such a ban violating state or federal constitutional law. As Mora County’s Democratic Chair, Joseph Weathers stated (Optic 5/1), “it expressly takes away the rights of people and corporations that are granted to them through the state constitution and the United States Constitution.” Don’t we have a Constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  At the least, “life” requires non-toxic air and water to sustain it.

If, by the “rights of people,” opponents to the ban mean property owners’ rights, then perhaps they overlooked another Constitutional tenet: eminent domain, allowing state or federal governments to take (for a pittance) your property for some worthy cause (usually a mall).   Moreover, our property owner rights are limited by virtue of local zoning laws (requiring permits for certain improvements).  Thus only Big Oil/Gas can do whatever they want on your property: They just go to the state, get a bond and trample the rights of any landowner resistant to drilling.

However, the predominant concern expressed in a recent flurry of editorials, including Martín Salazar’s recent columns, is the fear of “restricting the rights that corporations enjoy” and the consequent litigation from corporations, suing for their “individual” and Constitutional rights. Martin Salazar correctly noted (Optic 5/8) that “The U.S. and state constitutions aren’t trivial documents that can be cast aside at will just because they are inconvenient.”  In just this century alone, existing environmental protections – deemed “inconvenient” to corporate America’s agenda — have been gradually eroded. Given the energy’s blatant contempt for compliance with federal (EPA and OSHA), state and local regulations, as evidenced by their exemption from the Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Chemical Acts, I think it is time that the rights enjoyed by corporations thus far be lawfully reduced to be equal to those of “we, the people” and that state and federal constitutions be applied equally “with liberty and justice for all.”

The fear of litigation is valid and has been carefully nurtured and protected by corporate law firms defending their clients before state and federal courts since 1776. And, like any common street bully, each legal victory enhances their ability to threaten our inalienable rights. This fear, in combination with their deep pockets, has enabled big oil/gas to perpetuate a culture of intimidation.

Case in point: On Jan. 29, 2013, a federal judge … finalized BP’s criminal liability for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Under the agreement, BP will pay $4 billion in fines — the largest criminal resolution in U.S. history — and plead guilty to 14 counts of criminal acts, including felony manslaughter and obstruction of Congress. Had Judge Sarah S. Vance not accepted the plea, the oil giant would have faced a long and costly trial.

Clearly, a restrictive ordinance, attempting to “regulate” the bullies is going to do little to protect the citizens of San Miguel County; whereas a ban will send the energy industry the message that we are not afraid to fight for clean air, water and ecosystems conducive to a healthy food web on which we all depend (as also protected by the state and federal public trust doctrine).

Diana Presser
Las Vegas