Signs of Life :: Corporations

Towns Rein in Corporate Power; Exxon Faces Court Challenges
Stefan Mackowski, 3, flanked by sisters Sarah and Shannon, enjoys the water on Halfmoon Lake in Barnstead, N.H. Photo by Channing Johnson for YES! Magazine.

Towns Rein in Corporate Power

Stefan Mackowski, 3, flanked by sisters Sarah and Shannon, enjoys the water on Halfmoon Lake in Barnstead, N.H. Photo by Channing Johnson for YES!

At a town meeting held March 15, the citizens of Nottingham, New Hampshire, banned corporations from privatizing the town’s water resources. The Nottingham Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance also denies constitutional protection for corporations infringing on the rights of human and ecological communities in Nottingham.

“People in communities across the country are so used to having to go to the back of the democracy bus and give up their seats when the corporations walk in,” said Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).

“The hurdle is to get over the consciousness that says that the people don’t have the right or the authority to have a say in what their community will look like,” he said. “To change that will require a very large grassroots action, which we’re seeing the very beginnings of here.”

CELDF provides legal services for groups and individuals challenging corporate personhood. Nottingham’s ordinance makes it the 11th municipality in the United States to reject corporate constitutional protection.

In February, Mahanoy Township, Pennsylvania, passed a law prohibiting the spreading of sewage sludge as fertilizer, a practice that many claim endangers human health by dumping pathogens and heavy metals onto the soil. The Mahanoy ordinance denies corporations the same constitutional rights and protections as people, and recognizes the rights of nature and natural communities.

In 2006, Barnstead, New Hampshire, a neighboring town of Nottingham, amended its water rights ordinance to include the rights of nature.

— Margit Christenson

Interested? See YES! #43, Stand Up to Corporate Power



Exxon Faces Court Challenges

The ExxonMobil Corporation is facing challenges on all sides over environmental violations and rights to oil reserves.

The Venezuelan government recently won a dispute over a contested oil exploration project, after President Hugo Chavez removed the project from Exxon’s control and placed it in the hands of state oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela S.A. Exxon sought $5 billion in compensation, and successfully petitioned courts in the U.K., the Netherlands, and the Dutch Antilles to freeze Venezuelan assets. A British judge lifted the freeze in March. Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez lauded the decision, “Our people won, our country won, our homeland won.”

The giant oil conglomerate also lost a recent appeal over a $112 million fine awarded to a Louisiana man who claimed an Exxon contractor had dumped radioactive waste on his land. The Supreme Court refused to consider Exxon’s appeal.

Meanwhile, the company is pursuing another Supreme Court appeal to avoid paying $2.5 billion to Alaskan natives and fishermen whose lives and businesses were destroyed by the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. Alaska Governor Sarah Pailin called the court’s decision to hear Exxon’s plea, “a kick in Alaska’s collective gut.” Thousands of victims of the spill, who would have been eligible to receive damages, have died while Exxon stalled payments through court appeals.

— Madeline Ostrander



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