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The Environmental Forum Reports: News That’s Reused

Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Stephen R. Dujack

Stephen R. Dujack

Editor, The Environmental Forum®

Higher Power: “A Unitarian Universalist church is suing the town of Bedford, Massachusetts, for denying a request to install solar panels on its property,” reports the ThinkProgress website. The church is “arguing that authorities are infringing on the congregation’s right to express their religious belief in clean energy solutions.”

The church applied for a “certificate of appropriateness” that would allow it to install solar panels on its sanctuary, but the town’s Historic District Commission turned it down. “In response, the congregation filed a complaint on June 27 based on an unusual argument: that the denial violated their congregation’s free exercise of religion, specifically the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as Article II of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.”

According to the complaint, “The decision exceeds the authority of the HDC, was legally untenable, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious, and violated the rights of the members of First Parish to the free exercise of their religious beliefs.”

This came about because the parish had applied for the right to be called a “Green Sanctuary” by the mother church, a status that requires at least 75 percent of its power comes from solar electricity.

A tree standing

Standing Up: “Should Trees Have Standing?” famously asked Oxford professor Christopher D. Stone in the title of a law review article. Now the New York Times asks, “Can a stretch of land be a person in the eyes of the law? Can a body of water?” in a lead paragraph designed to appeal to environmental professionals of a scholarly bent.

“In New Zealand, they can,” the article swiftly answers. “A former national park has been granted personhood, and a river system is expected to receive the same soon.” The newspaper said the proposed arrangement would be something like the personhood granted corporations. It came about as a result of an agreement between the government and the indigenous Maori people, who have long proclaimed sentience and soulhood for sacred natural features.

“The settlement is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world,” said New Zealand’s minister in charge of Maori affairs. Jacinta Ruru, writing in the Maori Law Review, said the new arrangement was “undoubtedly legally revolutionary” in New Zealand “and on a world scale.”

Green Golf? “Last week, in the office of Rio de Janeiro’s public ministry, two biologists and a lawyer for an environmental-investigation division called Ambiental GATE patiently listened to me read from a recent Golf Digest article about the new Olympic Golf Course’s positive environmental impact,” according to journalist Aaron Gordon writing in Vice.com.

The trio “had just spent two hours carefully explaining to me in detail why the exact opposite is true: that the Olympic Golf Course destroyed protected land, reduced biodiversity, and was built in violation of Rio’s environmental laws.”

According to GATE’s investigation, Olympic developers violated not only “the letter and spirit of environmental laws” but unveiled “a concerted effort between the city and a billionaire developer to get the course built for personal gain.”

The website further declared, “The Rio Games have caused neighborhoods to be destroyed and people to be killed for the Olympic Family’s benefit; billions upon billions spent with little payoff for the vast majority of Cariocas.”

This column originally appeared in ELI’s award-winning membership journal, The Enviromental Forum.To learn more, visit www.eli.org/just-for-members.

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