Grafton, New Hampshire Adopts Community Bill of Rights That Bans Land Acquisition for Unsustainable Energy Systems

by: Posted on: April 02, 2013

By Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund,

(March 12, 2013) Tuesday night residents at Town Meeting in Grafton, New Hampshire adopted an ordinance that establishes a community Bill of Rights and prohibits corporations “to engage in land acquisition necessary for the siting or construction of unsustainable energy systems”. The vote was 255:252.

The ordinance recognizes rights to pure water, clean air, a sustainable energy future, a “fundamental and inalienable right to protect and preserve the scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the town,” and that the people of Grafton at all times enjoy and retain “an inalienable and indefeasible right to self-governance in the community where they reside.” It also recognizes natural communities and ecosystems have “inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the Town,” and that “residents of the town shall possess legal standing to enforce those rights on behalf of those natural communities and ecosystems.”

When concerned Grafton residents heard about an industrial wind proposal by the Spanish company, Iberdrola, to site turbines along the Cardigan and the Orange Mountain ridgelines in Grafton County that is being called the Wild Meadows project, they called CELDF and asked for help.

Alarmed by the rate at which the state was approving industrial wind projects in New Hampshire, town residents wasted no time in drafting the language for their Community Bill of Rights with help from CELDF and holding several informational meetings to educate local townspeople.

Iberdrola’s Tenney and Fletcher Mountain project, visible to folks who live in the town of Grafton, located in Grafton county, made people intimately aware of the changes that come to a rural community when any large industrial activity sites nearby. After witnessing the devastation that comes with such projects, community members circulated petitions and submitted more than the required number of signatures to place the Community Bill of Rights onto the Warrant for this year’s meeting. They were following in the footsteps of their neighbors in Plymouth, Sugar Hill and Easton, who all enacted Community Bills of Rights last year in response to the Northern Pass.

The general provisions of the proposed Ordinance:

1. Establish a Community Bill of Rights enumerating a right to pure water, clean air, rights of natural communities and ecosystems, a sustainable energy future, and local community self-government;

2. Make it unlawful in Grafton “for a corporation or any person using a corporation, to engage in land acquisition necessary for the construction of an unsustainable energy system, or to engage in construction or siting of any structure to be used in the operation of an unsustainable energy system”:

3. Remove “certain legal powers and privileges from any corporation that violates the prohibitions of this Ordinance””

4. Nullify permits ostensibly “legalizing” the violation of rights secured by this Ordinance:

5. Prevent representatives of corporations in violation of the prohibitions of this Ordinance from subordinating the rights of Grafton residents to the privileges and powers of corporations by wielding state preemptive laws against citizens of Grafton:

6. Empower the Town or any Town resident to enforce the Ordinance through an action brought in the Court:

7. Empower the Township or any Township resident to bring an action under state and federal civil rights laws for violations of the rights of Town residents and the rights of natural communities and ecosystems;

8. Call for changes to the Constitution of the State of New Hampshire that recognize and enforce the right to local community self government that cannot not be preempted when the municipality enacts laws that protect the health, safety and welfare of the community or assert and expand the rights of human and natural communities, and would elevate the rights of the community above the legal privileges and protections afforded to corporations.

The specific prohibitions enacted by the ordinance are justified on grounds that such prohibitions are necessary to secure and protect those rights enumerated. This exercise of local police powers is new to many local governments, which have been led to believe they have authority only to administer state regulations and may not protect the community with more strict measures than the state allows.

Grafton joins more than a half dozen other communities in New Hampshire that have taken seriously the obligation of municipal government to protect health, safety and welfare, quality of life and fundamental rights against harmful industrial projects.

Copyright, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. Reprinted with permission.

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