EcoAction and Rights of Nature

Statement of Marci Henzi of Pennsylvania Green Party at EcoAction Webinar on Earth Day to May Day on April 8, 2024

What is the Rights of Nature?

  • It’s the basic principle that trees, animals, oceans, mountains are all interconnected and have the right to exist and thrive without being treated as property.
  • It’s the belief that homo-sapiens have the legal authority and responsibility to protect and enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems.
  • It’s unwritten natural law and it underlies all we do as environmentalists. For Greens, it is the foundation of our pillar “Ecological Wisdom.”

How are we doing in upholding the Rights of Nature?

As a concept and as a movement, Rights of Nature challenges 20th Century laws that frame nature as a resource to be owned, used and degraded–laws that are subordinate to economic interests.

In the US and in tribal lands, dozens of ordinances with rights of nature provisions have been passed in the last five years, mostly as a reaction to specific threats. My hometown Pittsburgh, PA passed an anti-fracking law that states that “Natural communities and ecosystems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish” and that “resident shall possess legal standing to enforce those rights.”

But what we see in PA is a flourishing fossil fuel industry with an administration and a legislature that promotes it.  PA is second only to Texas in the nation for the amount of fracking that goes on and also in the number of abandoned oil and gas wells. The first oil well in the US was drilled in Titusville, PA  in 1859. Some folks believe there may be in the vicinity of 400,000 abandoned wells in PA that emit methane and other hydrocarbons into the atmosphere and toxic chemicals into the water.  I have witnessed a toxic pool of salty brine from an abandoned well and seen video footage of a deer drinking from that pool.

What are some actions being taken by Greens in PA to help protect the Rights of Nature?

Greens are favorably and disproportionately represented. We directly participate in educational experiences and NVDAs that draw attention to the need to protect nature and help build an effective environmental movement. Here are five points that help support this statement.

  1. The EcoAction Committee’s own Barbara Laxon is an expert abandoned well hunter who lives in the distressed city of Bradford in North Central PA, along the NY border on Seneca lands. She is an important member of Save Our Streams PA and Defend Ohiyo.  (Ohiyo is the Seneca term for “Beautiful River” and refers to the Allegany River.)  SOS is holding a well hunt in the Allegheny National Forest this coming Earth Day Weekend which will be attended predominantly by members of the Green Party of Pennsylvania out of Pittsburgh and State College. The abandoned wells problem is not being properly addressed with earmarked well-capping funds guaranteed through the Inflation Reduction Act. There is communication between wells and aquafers. Capping is never a permanent solution. A look at an old map of the Bradford Oil Fields will blow your mind.  It’s not our fault but we must get serious and do something about it. These are legacy conventional oil wells, not fracking wells.
  1. March on Harrisburg is a well-known, respected nonpartisan statewide grassroots community reimagining how democracy operates. MOH lists Pennsylvania Action on Climate (PAC) as one of its campaigns. Many members of the Green Party of Pennsylvania are involved with PAC.  On the website, there is a statement about PAC.  “We are committed to shining a bright light on the intersection of bad climate policy and corruption. The legislators’ idolatrous and adulterous relationship with corrupt special interest money is killing the land, air and water that our lives depend on.”
  1. Last month three PA Greens were arrested for trespassing in our State Capitol building as part of PAC. They were from Pittsburgh, State-College, and York PA—a mother, a veteran, and a preacher.  Our climate denying Governor knew they were coming and had his wing of the building guarded and declared off limits. PAC members were only trying to talk to our Governor who takes environmentalists’ money directly from organizations like the Sierra Club while taking fossil fuel money laundered through the Democratic Governors’ Association.
  1. This week, jury selection was supposed to start for the trial of Michael Bagdes-Canning, Mayor of Cherry Valley, PA–population, less than 100. Michael was hoping to take a highly visible stand for the planet and for the Rights of Nature in the Harrisburg courtroom. He was arrested last year. The charges are bogus but we hope that he will indeed have his day in court on the 15th. A  quote found on the GPUS website from last May by a member of the GPPA endorsing Mike’s re-election for Mayor says  “I last witnessed Michael Badges-Canning in a nonviolent protest against political payola in Harrisburg. A state lawmaker removed him by force before entering a lobby-donor luncheon that wintry day. Legal bribery can give a nod to expansionist shale and oil companies whose extraction, refinement, storage, and transportation activities threaten, at the very least, drinkable water in forgotten rural communities like Cherry Valley.”