From Rural Pennsylvania to South America, a Global Alliance is Promoting the Idea that Ecosystems Have Intrinsic Rights
By Jason Mark
Cathy Miorelli doesn’t think of herself as an environmentalist. When Miorelli decided to run for the city council of Tamaqua Borough – a small town in central Pennsylvania where she has lived her entire life – she didn’t have any sort of eco-agenda. It was 2004, and the hottest controversy in Tamaqua involved a proposal by an outside company to dump sewage sludge and coal fly ash into abandoned mining pits on the edge of town. But the main issue on Miorelli’s mind was creating more transparent governance on the council, which she says had long been dominated by an old boys’ network. “I was just concerned about everything overall, not really so much the environment,” says Miorelli, who has worked for 16 years as the nurse at the Tamaqua high school. “You know, I didn’t run on any kind of platform, saying that I was going to change the world here or anything.”
She did change the world, though. Halfway through her one-term stint on the council, Miorelli spearheaded the passage of an anti-sewage sludge ordinance that included a provision recognizing the rights of “natural communities” to flourish – the first law of its kind in the world. The Tamaqua Borough ordinance inspired dozens of other communities in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania – including the city of Pittsburgh – to adopt similar rights of nature laws. Those ordinances then helped influence the people of Ecuador to put legal rights for ecosystems in that country’s new constitution. The idea that nature, just like people, possesses inalienable rights has percolated up to the United Nations, which has considered a proposal to adopt a “Charter on the Rights of Mother Nature.”
The toxic sewage sludge prevention and mitigation community lost one of its greatest activists - Maureen Reilly died on December 11, 2012. Maureen was a respected researcher and educator whose contributions were valued across Canada, in the United States and Europe. She was the editor of Sludge Watch, an online newsletter with a worldwide readership. From an on-line obituary "...for almost two decades, Maureen has been an inspired, tireless and preeminent researcher and campaigner against land application of sludge, assisting local communities throughout North America fight industrial and municipal proposals to re-brand toxic effluents of various types and consistencies and dump them as 'fertilizer' and 'beneficial biosolids' onto our food, aquifers, into our lives and bodies."
What You Can Do
What You Can Do [PDF]
To receive alerts, news and information from the Sewage Sludge Action Network, please join our mailing list.