My Turn: The case for local self-governance

For the Monitor
Published: 8/7/2021 6:20:14 AM

At some point in time in your community, you will be confronted with a corporate project, such as a landfill, gravel pit, high voltage power lines, fossil fuel pipeline, commercial water extraction, mountaintop removal wind turbines or sludge applications. Ever wonder why it’s so difficult to stop these corporate activities from harming your community? These corporate projects are protected by private corporate laws under the umbrella of regulatory law.

Such corporate projects often succeed without much opposition because communities give into believing that they don’t have any decision-making authority to prohibit dangerous risks or they are not able to see the future detriment to their lives regarding health, safety and welfare. Even if a community mounts significant opposition to a corporate project, the present structure of regulatory law allows these harms to occur via a permit (permit equals permission to do what is otherwise illegal) despite their strong local opposition.

Local self-governance is a direct democratic way the people of a targeted community can protect what they envision for their community, like clean air, water and soil, their health, safety and welfare, and recognizing rights for ecosystems to not be polluted.

Regulatory law does not stop the harmful effects of corporate polluters. At best, these laws only slow the rate of harm. Corporate actors use corporate personhood “rights,” private law and regulatory law, and preemption to override local opposition. When communities do stand up to create legal or financial obstacles to harmful corporate projects, corporations look to our government and judicial system to protect them. And sadly, more times than not, they do.

A long-standing example is the Coakley Landfill. Those responsible for the pollution have externalized the costs to the taxpayers, while the polluters have washed their hands of any accountability via the claim that their actions were “legal” through the permit they received from governmental regulatory agencies. If local self-governance was legally recognized, such irreparable pollution, contamination and cancer clusters would never have happened. Harm could have been proactively stopped instead of going into court after the fact with the EPA and NHDES spending taxpayers' dollars for decades and still not resolving the environmental problems or the serious health effects.

As a remedy to such a power structure that omits those most affected (residents and natural environments) from any real decision-making authority, my town of Barnstead and a dozen other towns have recognized their right to locally self-govern as means to raise protections for our communities.

In order to secure these protections for all Granite State communities, we are calling for a state constitutional amendment that recognizes, secures and protects our right to pass laws with greater social and environmental protections than those afforded by the state or federal governments. The NH Community Rights Amendment would protect local laws that expand rights and protections for real people (corporations are not real people) and nature, while not allowing any restrictions to already existing rights and protections.

For example, a community could not use the NH Community Rights Amendment to ban all firearms, as the right to bear arms (whether you agree with it or not) is a protected right. Neither could a community use the amendment to violate or restrict the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

Let the people decide if they wish to preserve the health, safety and welfare of their communities, thereby guaranteeing a sustainable future by protecting their valuable ecosystems and their social values and forcing corporations that seek to profit from industrial activities to be more accountable to the people and ecosystems most affected. 

(Douglas Darrell lives in Center Barnstead. Visit to learn more about the NH Community Rights Amendment.)

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