by Kara Scott and Bonnie Glose
“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.
I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.
And I’m asking you , sir, at the top of my lungs….”
“The Lorax,” written by Dr. Seuss, played in my mind as I looked out my back window at the site of the proposed trash transfer station.
Once the shock and inertia passed, a group of concerned citizens came together and we formed the Bowmanstown Area Action Committee (BAAC). This was in response to the fact that our borough council stated their hands were tied. They could not even discuss the issue without the possibility of litigation. We, the BAAC, enthusiastically began to research our options.
Our state representative’s office told us “We’ll fight this like a panther! But we cannot do anything until the zoning hearing board has made it’s decision.” That was over a year ago. We still haven’t heard from them, or the state senator, who issued a similar response. The large environmental organizations we contacted shook their heads, but offered us no protection, other than to hire a “very experienced lawyer.” Our community cannot afford this option. Research indicates that the trash industry targets low socio-economic areas. Our story is no different.
Our options were dwindling when we received a ray of hope from a nonprofit organization called the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). They confirmed our worst fears. We have no rights as citizens, and that corporate rights supercede our own, according to state laws. Does this make you angry? It should.
CELDF assists communities to assert their right to local self-government. We, the people, they said, have the constitutional right to say “no,” and the state is effectively stripping us of this right. The Pennsylvania Constitution states:?“all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority.” It should be very simple. We don’t want it.
CELDF sent a representative to meet with our committee, then drafted an ordinance to meet our needs to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our community. They will even legally defend this ordinance in court, if necessary, with little cost to the borough. We presented the ordinance to our council, who, initially seemed to favor the prospect. We attended the council meetings for months, hoping that our council would decided to advertise the ordinance, but eventually, the solicitor intimidated them, suggesting that they would be open to personal law suits. CELDF drafted a legal memo contradicting the solicitor’s advice, but the council members remained reluctant to support the ordinance, and voted not to advertise it.
We attended a CELDF conference February 20, 2010, and were privileged to meet the mayor of Tamaqua. Their council had the backbone to stand up and protect their community with a similar ordinance. When we queried about their solicitor’s response, it replicated our solicitor’s reaction. The mayor then stated boldly, “they can have my house and my car, if they want to sue, but now they can’t take my family’s health.”
It is unfortunate that our council and many other councils as well, are afraid to stand up against corporate pressure that can destroy our borough’s citizens and neighbors health and safety. After all, we elected them on the presumption that that would protect our community. It is our fear that we, too might suffer the fate of the Lorax…
“I, the Once-ler, felt sad
as I watched them all go
Business is business!
And business must grow.
Regardless of crummies in
Tummies, you know.”
But that same conference generated a path forward via the launch of the PA Community Rights Network and a campaign that provides us with hope for a future in which community decision-making is indeed an inalienable right.
Kara and Bonnie were among the founders of BAAC and are founding signers of the Chambersburg Declaration.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)
(Published in the 2010 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)