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What / Why / How


We believe that to attain sustainability, a right to local self-government must be asserted that places decisions affecting communities in the hands of those closest to the impacts. That right to local self-government must enable communities to reject unsustainable economic and environmental policies set by state and federal governments, and must enable communities to construct legal frameworks for charting a future towards sustainable energy production, sustainable land development, and sustainable water use, among others. In doing so, communities must challenge and overturn legal doctrines that have been concocted to eliminate their right to self-government, including the doctrines of corporate constitutional rights, preemption, and limitations on local legislative authority. Inseparable from the right to local self government – and its sole limitation – are the rights of human and natural communities; they are the implicit and enumerated  premises on which local self government must be built.


We believe that we are in the midst of an escalating ecological crisis, and that the crisis is the result of decisions made by a relatively few people who run corporations and government. We believe that sustainability will never be achieved by leaving those decisions in the hands of a few – both because of their belief in limitless economic production and because their decisions are made at a distance from the communities experiencing the impact of those decisions. 


To create the political space for things like single-payer health care to occur, it’s necessary to strip corporations of constitutional rights. Otherwise, their outsized voice will continue to thwart community majorities.

As Bill Moyers says, “The system isn’t broken; it’s fixed.” Corporations are neither “good” nor “bad” but simply fiscal vehicles functioning in perfect accord with legal doctrines that have been carefully constructed for over 100 years. It’s past time for us to carefully craft specific legal challenges that publicly reveal those specific doctrines. And it has to start at the local level. Our state & federal levels of government are utterly captured: elected officials that don’t subscribe to the belief that commercial interests must have veto power over all other interests do not remain in office for long. Real change will only happen when we the people enact rights-based municipal laws first and then drive those changes upward.  Pittsburgh’s done it. Spokane is doing it. So is Benton County, Oregon. Why not Portland?


For decades, people across the U.S. have formed neighborhood groups and organized themselves to block corporate assaults against their communities.  Those citizens have confronted incinerator corporations, power corporations, factory farm corporations, sludge corporations, big-box retail corporations, water bottling corporations, waste-hauling corporations, “development” corporations and others.

While those efforts have led to some increased regulation of the adverse environmental impacts caused by those corporations, their efforts have failed to fundamentally challenge the legal authority that has been reserved for corporations – and their directors – that enables them to override community decision making with their own.  Thus, while we see community after community fight to stop a new factory farm, a Wal-Mart, or mining, under our system of law communities don’t have the power to simply say “No.”

Communities always ask us “Why?”  Why can’t they – and not Smithfield Foods – decide what agriculture is going to look like in their community?  Why can’t they decide that Wal-Mart is too destructive to the local environment and economy and therefore doesn’t have a proper place in their town?  Why can’t they pass a local law to prohibit longwall coal mining, which destroys rivers, streams, and other natural systems?

Through grassroots organizing, public education, ordinance drafting, home rule charter campaigns and the provision of legal counsel, the Legal Defense Fund works with communities – with residents, citizens groups, and municipal governments – to answer and address that fundamental question “Why?”

Through this work, the Legal Defense Fund has become the principal adviser to residents, citizens groups, and municipal governments struggling to transition from merely regulating corporate harms to stopping those harms by asserting local, democratic control directly over corporations.

Today over 100 communities across the U.S. have adopted Legal Defense Fund-drafted laws.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund works with communities across the country –

If you are interested in learning more about our work and what it might look like in your community, send us an email at info@celdf.org or give us a call at (717) 498-0054.  We look forward to hearing from you.

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