The community rights discussion hosted by the Coos Commons Protection Council appears to have helped rally more troops to the cause of asserting local self governance. The community room at the Coos Bay Fire Hall was full to capacity and except for four pro-gas boosters everyone wanted to stop the Jordan Cove LNG project. Reasons for not wanting Jordan Cove are myriad, ranging from safety to environmental issues as well as fear of having their land taken for the pipeline via eminent domain. A story published in The World illustrates the other very real worry of depending too heavily upon one industry totally subject to market forces completely beyond our control.
After an initial introduction to “working outside the box” of the standard regulatory constraints and reclaiming our right to “say no” to unsustainable development, Kai Huschke of CELDF opened the meeting up to what turned out to be a very lively discussion. One of the main topics, naturally, is the citizen initiative “The Coos County Right to a Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance.”
What the Ordinance will do.
The ordinance will secure the right of the people of Coos County to be the decision makers about its energy future. The ordinance will protect the rights of people and ecosystems in Coos County from non-sustainable energy projects, including current corporate and government attempts to push through the pipeline and Jordan Cove LNG export terminal. It would not only prohibit the siting of such projects but also the use of eminent domain – the taking of private property – on behalf of foreign and domestic oil and gas corporations.
What the Ordinance will NOT do.
The Ordinance will not affect the transportation of fossil fuels intended for residential, commercial, or industrial use for on-site power, heat consumption and vehicle refueling.
Sustainable vs Renewable
One of the pro-gas attendees raised questions about two components of the ordinance. The first stems from the following clause taken from Section 2 – Definitions
(d) Non-sustainable energy systems means those systems that are controlled by state and federal energy policies, rather than community controlled energy policies; hydroelectric power and industrial scale wind power when it is not locally or municipally owned and operated; energy systems using fossil fuels, including but not limited to coal, natural gas, petroleum products, nuclear and radioactive materials and other fuel sources that are non-renewable, or which produce toxins and substances that cause injury to humans or natural communities and ecosystems, or that are in violation of resident’s right to a sustainable energy future.
Concerns were raised that the ordinance would prohibit the continued import of hydroelectric energy from Bonneville Dam, from which most of our current energy is derived. The ordinance will not prohibit these sources of electricity when used for on-site power for residential, commercial or industrial use. Defining centralized industrial or utility scale wind and hydro is simply differentiating between sustainable and unsustainable use of renewable energy. Massive wind farms like Shepherd’s Flat in Eastern Oregon that gobble up local ranches using eminent domain and ship power to California may be considered a renewable resource but isn’t necessarily a sustainable practice. The same can be said for hydroelectric dams. In retrospect, the ordinance should also have included centralized solar systems under this section.
The ordinance does not prohibit the sustainable use of renewable energy, quite the contrary. Local wind farms and decentralized wind, solar and hydro installations are fully embraced as long as the power is locally controlled and power/profits distributed within the county.
The other concern was about giving nature rights.
Rights of Nature
All too few people object to conveying human rights or “personhood” status to legal creatures like corporations. Too many submissively acquiesce to elevating corporate rights above those of the individual and community so much so that a Canadian company may force US landowners to give up their land using the power of eminent domain. Nonetheless, Jordan Cove proponents attending the discussion and even some opponents of the project have balked at the concept of acceding rights to nature despite our very dependence on nature to survive.
Under our current system of law nature is regarded as “property” that only has value if and when its resources are extracted even if that extraction destroys an entire ecosystem and diminishes our quality of life. Section 3. Statements of Law – Community Bill of Rights of the proposed ordinance addresses this issue by acknowledging nature is not property, at least when it comes to non-sustainable energy systems.
(c) Rights of Natural Communities and Ecosystems to Thrive. Natural communities and ecosystems within Coos County, including but not limited to, forests, rivers, streams, wetlands,aquifers, near shore habitats, and intertidal zones possess the right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve unaffected by the construction, siting, or operation of non-sustainable energy systems.
This ordinance does not allow a herd of elk to obtain legal counsel to seek an injunction against hunters or grant civil liberties to your backyard trees. It simply acknowledges that nature existed long before the man made construct of “property” ever came into our collective consciousness. It means “…that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. The ecosystem itself can be named as a rights bearing subject with standing in a court of law.”
Nature’s right to thrive as described within this ordinance provides another layer of legal protection only against unwanted non-sustainable energy systems.
In closing, it is worth pointing out a couple of observations. Interestingly, one staunch proponent of LNG claimed he opposes hydraulic fracturing. Similarly, another Jordan Cove supporter I know opposes the use of eminent domain for purposes of building the pipeline. Unfortunately, Jordan Cove will be fed by “fracked” natural gas from the Rocky Mountain States and the supporting Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline cannot be built without using eminent domain to obtain easements from unwilling landowners. One cannot support Jordan Cove LNG without also supporting these other practices.