Editorial: Oregon courts put public health, local democracy in danger
Lincoln County Community Right’s Petition of Review regarding a voter adopted ban on harmful aerial spray of pesticides has been denied by the Oregon Supreme Court. In 2017, Lincoln County voters passed Measure 21-177, banning aerial pesticide spraying in the county to protect the health and safety of people and ecosystems. Fronts for the timber and chemical industry promptly filed a lawsuit to overturn the people’s ban. The ban stood, and the county enjoyed freedom from chemical trespass for 29 months, until Lincoln County Circuit Court ruled the measure invalid in September of 2019 citing state law (promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, aka ALEC), as over-riding local law even though the local law was more protective of public health and the environment. That ruling was upheld by the appellate court.
Carol Van Strum, author of “A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights,” stated, “Existing environmental laws have done nothing; they’ve literally allowed the poisoning to go ahead.” Aerial spraying of toxic pesticides has been resumed over Lincoln County industrial timberlands in coastal watersheds. The effect that these poisons have on the water supply is documented.
The Oregon Supreme Court was petitioned to hear our aerial spray ban case as it has far-reaching impacts on citizens of Oregon and beyond. We had asked for consideration of three questions for rulings:
1. This case involves a voter-adopted county measure to protect public health and safety. State interference with local law was used to overturn this lawfully passed measure, violating Oregon constitutional rights for human safety.
2. The court was asked to extend analysis of the “state interests” to be used to overturn local law when there are competing rights — in this case conflict of human persons vs. corporate rights. Is the state protecting corporate interests or protecting people? The constitutionally lawful question is: does the local law expand the peoples’ rights, public health or safety protections? Voter-approved Measure 21-177 did expand local health and safety protections.
3. The vulnerable Siletz River Ecosystem was refused intervention in circuit court, and was disregarded by both the appeals court and the Oregon Supreme Court. In each case, the court was being asked to grant standing for legal protections that limit human abuses on the environment, such as over-allocation of water in drought conditions, toxic chemical trespass and clear-cutting. Among other harms, these abuses expose streams to sunlight and water temperature rise, and all life forms including endangered species being run over by toxic aerial spray.
Lincoln County Community Rights submitted documentation supporting the merits of the case and answering the court’s own criteria for “importance.” The merits included challenging a broad array of preemption laws suppressing benefits to the people of Oregon, such as minimum wage raises by cities, plastic bag bansand workers benefits. We called on the justices of the Oregon Supreme Court to put limits on state preemption laws. These laws, often written by corporate interests, such as ALEC, overrule local laws to protect health and safety. Oregon Supreme Court Justices denied the people of Lincoln County access to be heard.
The voters of this county have been denied their day in court. This denial essentially claims that the will of the majority of voters in this election are unimportant. Democracy has not been served nor is justice possible in this system where state and corporate interests are one, and peoples’ rights and the wellbeing of the people are disregarded.
Lincoln County Community Rights is a public benefit organization that seeks to educate and empower people to exercise their right of local democracy in matters that pertain to their fundamental rights like a natural environment, quality of life, health and their safety. Given the harm that people and ecosystems suffer from the practice of aerial spraying of industrial forestland with pesticides, we drafted an ordinance to ban aerial pesticide spraying in Lincoln County, Oregon. Measure 21-177 was adopted by voters in May 2017, making Lincoln County the first county in the United States to ban aerial pesticide spraying through the vote of the people.
Learn more at www.lincolncountycommunityrights.org
Submitted by Rio Davidson and Debra Fant, board members with Lincoln County Community Rights.
The views and opinions contained in the above editorial do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NewsLincolnCounty.com, it’s staff or management. The views and opinions expressed by Lincoln County Community Rights are strictly their own.