First Local Government in
U.S. Refuses to Recognize Corporate Claims to Civil Rights:
Bans Corporate Involvement
On the evening of December 9, 2002, the
elected municipal officials of Porter Township, Clarion County
a municipality of 1,500 residents an hour north of Pittsburgh
in Northwestern Pennsylvania became the first local government
in the United States to eliminate corporate claims to civil and
constitutional privileges. The Township adopted a binding law
declaring that corporations operating in the Township may not
wield legal privileges - historically used by corporations to
override democratic decisionmaking - to stop the Township from
passing laws which protect residents from toxic sewage sludge.
The actions by Porter Township thus repudiate the history of state
and federal public officials restricting the rights of citizens
while expanding the rights of corporations and their owners.
Along with close to a dozen other municipal
governments in Pennsylvania, Porter Township officials had previously
adopted a local law governing the land application of sewage sludge
in the Township. The adoption of that municipal law was an outgrowth
of the work done by residents and municipal officials to stop
sewage sludge corporations from dumping Pittsburgh-generated sludge
in the Township. To that immediate end, the municipal government
adopted a "tipping fee" law that requires corporate
sludge haulers to pay a per ton "tipping fee" to the
Township to enable the municipality to verify the safety of each
load of sludge applied to land. Sludge corporations have responded
both legislatively and judicially to the adoption of those laws
by Pennsylvania municipalities - which prevent corporations from
turning to state and federal officials to override local self-governance.
Judicial Response: In 2000, Synagro Corporation
one of the largest sludge hauling corporations in the United States
sued Township officials in Centre County, Pennsylvania in an attempt
to overturn the "tipping fee" law adopted by that Township.
In their Complaint, the Corporation alleged that the law violated
a litany of civil and constitutional rights asserted by the corporation.
A ruling by the federal court is expected by 2004.
Legislative Response: Legislatively, sludge
corporations drafted and vigorously pushed Bills that would strip
Pennsylvania municipalities of their authority to make rules that
would control the land application of sewage sludge and factory
farms. A unique coalition of groups that included municipal governments,
the Pennsylvania Farmers Union, the Pennsylvania Association for
Sustainable Agriculture, the Sierra Club, the AFL-CIO, the United
Mine Workers of America, Common Cause and others, defeated that
legislation at the end of the 2002 legislative session.
In addition to the legislative and judicial
responses to the assertion of local democracy by communities,
sludge corporations have also instructed the state environmental
regulatory agency and corporate farm lobbies to intervene with
Clarion County Townships. In late 2002, the Pennsylvania Department
of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau met
with Clarion County Townships to convince them to repeal their
local laws. The four Clarion County Townships that have adopted
the law refused. Instead, Porter Township forged ahead with adopting
the most recent law, which eliminates corporate interference in
the democratic processes of the Township. Also in late 2002, the
Alcosan Corporation, a sludge hauling corporation in Pennsylvania,
threatened to use Pennsylvania courts to overturn the sludge law
passed by the Township. Porter Township Supervisors, upon learning
of the ability of corporations to direct the courts to vindicate
corporate claims to civil and legal privileges to override local
governments, decided to pass a law to eliminate corporate claims
to those rights. The actions of Porter Township - along with the
actions of other municipal governments in Pennsylvania dealing
with land applied sewage sludge and factory farms - evidence a
shift of communities away from permitting corporate harms to asserting
direct control over corporations.
The Sludge and Corporate Personhood Ordinances
were developed by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
in partnership with the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy
(POCLAD) and communities across Pennsylvania impacted by land
applied sewage sludge and corporate factory farms.
Control of American Democracy