Community Control Defended in Lincoln County Appeal
A first-in-the-nation aerial spray ban adopted in 2017
is under appeal in the name of community self-government and nature’s rights.
June 4, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact: Mary Geddry
Eugene – In May 2017 the voters of Lincoln County adopted a ban on aerial spray of pesticides in the name of people’s right to clean air, water, and soil and the rights of nature itself not to be toxically trespassed by the corporate timber practices of spraying harmful pesticides by helicopters. The law was immediately challenged by interests tied to Oregon big timber by way of a lawsuit, and in the fall of 2019 the Lincoln County Circuit Court overturned the ban. That lower court decision has been appealed by Lincoln County Community Rights and Carol Van Strum on behalf of the Siletz River and the opening brief was filed with the Oregon Court of Appeals on May 28th.
“We are 100% behind the people and natural environment of Lincoln County. The oppressive overreach of state government in the name of corporate privilege must be broken whether the issue is toxic pesticides, deadly fossil fuel projects, worker’s wages, or police brutality. Communities have an inherent right to self-determine where it comes to their health, safety, and welfare. It’s high time this is honored”, Nancy Ward, state coordinator for the ORCRN.
The decision by the judge in the case came down to asserting that the state’s power to control pesticide use overrides a local government’s ability to act in a manner that raises protective standards for people and the environment.
The court invention of state ceiling preemption is challenged and called out in these separate passages of the appeal brief:
The doctrine of preemption should not be applied, as it was in this case, to give precedence to a state law that restricts or interferes with fundamental rights, such as the right to health and safety. The Legislature’s imposition of a uniform, statewide system of pesticide regulation under Oregon’s Pesticide Control Act prevents the people of Lincoln County from securing and protecting their fundamental right to clean air, water, and soil free of aerially sprayed pesticides.
Local communities across the nation assert more expansive rights and protections than those offered at the federal and state level. It is time for the courts to adopt a standard for the preemption doctrine which renders it inapplicable to local laws securing fundamental rights by requiring that preemption be narrowly justified by an important state interest.
The ORCRN is actively working on introducing a constitutional amendment in Oregon for the 2021 legislative session that would secure the right to local self-determination for people and nature where it comes to protecting health, safety, and welfare. This would mean that local governments can increase, not decrease, protections for people, communities, and nature. Draft language of the amendment can be found here: https://oregoncommunityrights.org/amendment/
In addition to the defense of local community control the appeal also defends the rights of the Siletz River. Efforts nationally and internationally have been growing over the last decade to secure legal rights for ecosystems and natural communities. Lincoln County became the first community in Oregon in 2017 to secure rights for nature. The brief makes a sharp point as to why standing should be granted to the Siletz along with calling out the levels of legal protection for non-living property interests:
There is no inherent or fundamental right to aerially spray pesticides. In contrast, the ecosystem has a fundamental right to exist and thrive, and the activity of aerially spraying pesticides interferes with those rights. The concept of rights of nature is not based solely on the idea that nature has rights. Equally important is the concept that humans have a responsibility toward nature. A judgment in favor of nature or an ecosystem recognizes these rights and responsibilities
A hearing date to review the lower court decision is most likely to be scheduled in 2021.