Pollution, corporate constitutional rights are not funny


By Deb Hogshead

Guest columnist

With the recent celebration of Earth Day, I recalled a song we sang in show choir back in the 1970s: “Pollution” by Tom Lehrer. The third chorus goes, “Pollution, pollution. Wear a gas mask and a veil. Then you can breathe, long as you don’t inhale.” Like the song’s other lyrics, this gets lots of laughs. But pollution and its effects on the environment and public health are no laughing matter.

The first Earth Day was held April 22, 1970. According to earthday.org, the inaugural event “inspired 20 million Americans—at the time, 10% of the total population of the United States—to take to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate against the impacts of 150 years of industrial development which had left a growing legacy of serious human health impacts.”

Earth Day 1970 was a demonstration, not a celebration. In response, Congress passed legislation to clean up the environment and created the Environmental Protection Agency, which, rightly or wrongly, is often criticized for not doing its job. (In fairness, the EPA is understaffed and underfunded.)

It’s been 54 years since that first Earth Day, and significant challenges remain. Fortunately, many Ohioans don’t confine their environmental and public health advocacy to a single day each year.

Piqua residents have been demanding answers to questions about the burning of toxic lithium-ion batteries at 9300 State Route 66. In Toledo, citizens are protesting the planned expansion of I-475 from four lanes to eight, in anticipation of the opening of the Gordie Howe International Bridge, and questioning what hazardous materials trucks will be allowed to transport across the Detroit River. And in East Palestine, site of the February 2023 Norfolk Southern train derailment, residents continue to raise concerns about the long-term health consequences of their exposure to vinyl chloride.

Responding to criticism of the EPA’s slow response in East Palestine, a consultant with a for-profit environmental consulting firm said, “If the EPA had stepped in initially and not allowed an opportunity for Norfolk Southern to put forth an appropriate response, then it would have been considered government overreach and it would have been considered taking away freedoms.” The consultant’s position on corporate “freedoms” helps explain why it’s difficult to protect the environment and public health.

Freedoms are rights. Rights are for natural persons. Corporate entities, created on paper through a chartering process, should have statutory privileges and legal protections, but they should never have inherent, inalienable rights. Yet, thanks to a series of decisions over the course of 137 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has granted corporations not only 1st Amendment rights to free speech, but also 1st Amendment rights to not speak; 4th Amendment rights against warrantless searches and seizures; a 5th Amendment right to sue for lost profits; 14th Amendment rights to citizenship, equal protection and due process (rights added to the Constitution to benefit freed slaves); and rights under the Commerce Clause, which allows a corporation to sue state and local governments for regulations that may inhibit it from doing business in a desired location.

With so-called corporate constitutional rights in its toolbox, a large corporation or trade association has both the power and the money to “buy” candidates for public office, lobby elected representatives, and fund mammoth lawsuits, influencing the extent to which we have (or don’t have) EPA regulations, inspections, and enforcement.

We must take back control of chartered entities that put profits over people. And we must hold our elected representatives accountable to us, not corporations. A critical first step is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that makes clear corporations are not people with constitutional rights and money spent on political campaigns is not protected speech.

Call your congressional representative. Urge him or her to cosponsor House Joint Resolution 54, the proposed We the People Amendment.

Like pollution, the misguided doctrine of corporate constitutional rights is no laughing matter.

Learn more at https://www.movetoamend.org/amendment.

The writer is a Troy resident and a volunteer with Move to Amend Miami County and Greater Dayton Move to Amend.

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