Could A Community Bill Of Rights Keep Out A Gas Pipeline?

By Jes Burns, Oregon Public Broadcasting

Southern Oregon communities along a proposed natural gas pipeline route are looking for creative ways to stop the project. Douglas and Coos County residents hope a Community Bill of Rights will give them a legal avenue to assert local control.

The pipeline for the proposed Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas export terminal in Coos Bay would run through the property of Stacey McLaughlin.  She doesn’t want it there. And speaking out before government officials has been less than satisfying.

“It feels like a waste of my time,” she said.

So McLaughlin is organizing her Douglas County neighbors to enact a community bill of rights.  It would give cities and counties the legal grounds to say no to projects that violate local values.

The group met Friday with Kai Huschke of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to discuss their options going forward. Huschke said many communities have little to no recourse against state and federally approved projects.

“So folks are actually moving law to assert that right. That right of government to say no to things like pipelines, and yes to sustainable energy futures,” Huschke said.

McLaughlin said the Douglas County group is early in the process. Community members are working on language for their community bill of rights, which may eventually include fossil fuel and community health provisions.

“I think it will create an opportunity for reason and rational thinking to start being the approach we take as citizens in this community,” McLaughlin said, “instead of just settling for somebody just walks in the door and says, ‘hey here’s what you have to do.’”

In neighboring Coos County, residents are collecting signatures to put a similar measure on the May ballot.  It is uncertain if these types of local ordinances will be legally effective.

“We’re just now beginning to see where the courts for instance stand in regards to either recognizing corporate rights or that of community rights in rejecting harmful corporate projects,” Huschke said.

He said about 200 communities in nine states have already passed community bills of rights.

Several in the Northwest are embracing the idea. Voters in Benton County, Oregon, will vote this May on a Community Bill of Rights targeting food security. An organizing group in Spokane could also have a community rights measure on the ballot in 2015.

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