Asserting Our Rights to a Clean Environment
“When it comes to our energy future, who has more rights: one large energy monopoly, or the combined citizens of Asheville?” asks Jamie Friedrich, an organizer with local nonprofit Community Roots. You probably guessed correctly. Corporations have been seizing power all over this country, with disastrous effects upon our air, water, and land. Our pro-corporate, heavily Republican state legislature currently has the power to pre-empt any local laws that are in conflict with the corporate agenda. But people are organizing to challenge that, thanks to the work of Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) who have been working on Community Rights since the 1990s.
Community Bill of Rights
Here in Asheville, Community Rights activists, with the help of CELDF’s lawyers, have just drafted a Community Bill of Rights. The bill establishes Asheville citizens’ right to local community self-government and a healthy climate. It provides for a sustainable energy policy, gradually eliminating the use of fossil fuels (including gas) and enforcement against corporations that engage in projects that would violate residents’ rights to protection from toxic substances, including depleted Uranium. Citing the Constitution of North Carolina statement that “all political power is vested in and derived from the people only,” the bill establishes citizens’ rights to a healthy climate, clean air, water and soil, scenic preservation, and renewable energy. On a pragmatic level, it calls for an Annual Sustainable Energy Plan with benchmarks including 80% sustainable energy in all sectors (electricity, heating/cooling, transportation and industry) by 2030, on the way to 100% by 2050. The transition would create local jobs and would be financed by general revenue bonds, tax credits and subsidies.
“It is clear that the monopoly system is not conducive to the transition to a distributed, clean energy future that is by and for the people. Duke is acting against the public good by protecting and expanding their centralized, dirty energy systems over wide-scale adoption of solar, wind and other technologies which do not destroy our planet and lead to greater empowerment for the people,” says Dave Hollister of the Alliance for Energy Democracy.
Hasn’t City Council already passed something like this?
To become law, the Community Bill of Rights must be approved by City Council. To that end, activists are holding meetings with City Council members and candidates, as well as building a city-wide coalition of groups in support.
Asheville’s City Council passed a resolution in June which read, in part:
“The State of North Carolina and the United States shall establish a transition from a fossil fuel‐based economy and infrastructure to a 100% renewable energy for an all energy sectors‐based economy, while increasing protections that keep forests standing, by January 1, 2050 or sooner to avoid climate catastrophe, to promote job creation and economic growth, and to protect the Earth for current and future generations from climate catastrophe.”
That resolution’s goal of transitioning to a clean energy future is the same as that espoused by Community Roots. However, the Council’s recent resolution was a support statement only, lacking any provisions for financing or enforcement against corporations acting in violation.
Public Comments Sought
“We want everyone to read and comment on this proposed bill of rights. Asheville is a diverse city, we need input that includes all perspectives” says Kat Houghton, a founder of Asheville’s Community Rights campaign and a board member of Community Roots, the nonprofit which sponsors it. Public comment period is from Sept. 5 to Nov. 5; please see http://cmroots.com/asheville-community-rights/climate-bill-of-rights-for-asheville-nc/. There will be several public meetings during the month of October, at which community input will be sought including:
Saturday September 23rd 5-7pm at The BLOCK off Biltmore,
Wednesday October 11th 6-8pm Pack Memorial Library (Lord Auditorium)
Wednesday October 18th 5.45-8pm West Asheville Library
Wednesday October 25th 5.45-8pm North Asheville Library
Saturday October 28th 5-7pm The BLOCK off Biltmore
For more information visit CMRoots.com