On Monday, the City of Las Vegas NM adopted a rights based ordinance establishing a local Bill of Rights and banning fracking and related activities. The City Council vote was 3-1, with the city attorney and city manager in loud, vocal and prolonged opposition.
Letter to the Editor by Don Hamilton
A letter in the March 9th Optic questions the Las Vegas City Council’s consideration of an ordinance affirming the city’s rights to self determination. Among their concerns, the writers mention the following two items. First, they claim that the ordinance “annul(s) the federal and state constitutional rights of certain entities and individuals,” and secondly, they express concerns about water.
Their first statement is a misrepresentation of the ordinance. The ordinance protects individual and community rights against rights of corporations (“entities”). Nowhere in either constitution are corporations allotted any rights.
Such rights have been assigned to corporations by the courts, by asserting that corporations are “persons” with rights that were intended for individual humans. These court cases have continually allowed corporations to control governments and therefore dominate political decision-making. This has resulted in loss of rights to self-determination for communities and individuals. This community rights ordinance seeks to redress these unfair rulings by returning the rights to real flesh-and-blood people. Even the New Mexico legislature passed a resolution opposing corporate personhood.
As to the writers’ concerns about water, this ordinance protects our water by also disallowing corporate lawyers and out-of-town legislators from mandating drilling and hydrofracking for natural gas against the will of Las Vegas residents. Natural gas extraction commonly damages and depletes water resources.
Surely protecting water is the absolute priority in our region. Desire for money from an industry that will destroy water resources is foolhardy.
Communities across the nation have passed ordinances banning drilling for these very reasons. Rather than, as the writers suggest, “devoting its time and energy to the development of a reasonable regulatory ordinance,” the Las Vegas City Council is acting to protect the city. Regulatory ordinances always permit harmful activities. Regulation does not regulate industry; it regulates communities and individuals.
The real question here is not the details of the community rights ordinance. The question is, do we have the right to determine what we want in our communities? Under state and federal regulatory laws, we do not.
Under these laws, citizens across the country have lost their clean water, their clean air, and their communities. Do we want the same thing to happen here in Northern New Mexico? Do we want to lose our land and our communities because we don’t dare to question the status quo, which is designed to cater to corporations? Or do we want to take a stand? Do we want to live in an industrial zone, with polluted air and water along with high cancer and asthma rates like those in San Juan County? Do we want corporations and legislators to decide our future, or do we choose our own future? This is the real issue.
I commend the forward-thinking mayor and city council for their courage in choosing not what is easy but what is correct, which is to follow their oaths of office, which direct them to protect the health and safety of their constituents. The community rights ordinance does just that.