S.M. Does the Rights Thing

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously supported a resolution last night affirming individual environmental rights to clean air, water and soil, sustainable water and food supplies, and a climate unaltered by anthropogenic impacts.  Nearly 40 speakers ranging from high school and college students to environmental activists from Northern California spoke in support of the sustainability bill of rights.

The resolution, crafted by Santa Monica city staff in response to a draft ordinance recommended by the city’s Task Force on the Environment, commits the city to come back this summer with recommended legal changes to allow individuals to protect those rights.  Although the council vote only approved a resolution instead of a legally enforceable ordinance, the action puts the city on track to a process that provides individuals defensible environmental rights and extends protective rights to local natural resources.

Last night was a first step towards changing the dialogue on environmental protection in Santa Monica, and hopefully that shift in dialogue will move far beyond the city’s borders. The recommended legal changes to Santa Monica law will come to the city council at the same time as the third iteration (and third decade) of goals and metrics under Santa Monica’s Sustainable City Plan. We could see a draft as early as mid-summer.

We all have the right to clean air, water and soil, and corporate rights should never supersede these rights.  The time is now to move from just voluntary intentions to making these sustainability goals legal, enforceable obligations.

 

Rights of Nature in Santa Monica

Santa Monica may follow Pittsburgh's footsteps in codifying fundamental rights of nature.

In the Citizens United case last year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that corporations have the same rights as citizens. The ruling already has changed the face of electoral politics in America, with unlimited campaign contributions by corporations for communications now apparently a First Amendment right. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously stated in Iowa last August that corporations are persons.  And the Occupy movement has continually spoken out about the disproportionate influence of Big Business in the United States.

In response to the corporate personhood issue, and the lack of progress statewide and nationally on a wide variety of environmental issues, the Santa Monica Task Force on the Environment worked with Global Exchange, Earthlaw and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to develop a draft Sustainability Bill of Rights.  The draft includes elements of the Rights of Nature ordinances that have passed in Pittsburgh and numerous towns concerned about the impacts of industry on local water supplies.

The draft also includes elements of Santa Monica’s renowned Sustainable City Plan, which was first approved by city council 17 years ago. And finally, the draft includes fundamental environmental rights that every person should have.  These are a modified version of the environmental bill of rights I recommended back in 2008 in this blog.

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