The challenge of environmentally unfriendly corporations

Many have wondered how a corporation could possibly be considered a person in the eyes of the Supreme Court. As it turns out, it’s just a bit of “legal fiction.” A short historical explanation follows.

The 14th Amendment was adopted at the end of the Civil War (1868) and held that all people, newly emancipated slaves included, would be treated equally under the law. No mention of corporations.

In 1882 SCOTUS heard a “test case brought up by Southern Pacific Railroad to win the rights of equality guaranteed by the 14th Amendment… [Former U.S. Senator Roscoe] Conkling, who had been on the committee that drafted the [14th] amendment, misled the justices into believing that the drafters intended to protect corporations. In another [test case], the justices declined to rule on the corporate rights question, but the court’s reporter of decisions wrote that they had — and the case would be cited from then on for recognizing broad rights,” writes Joshua Rich, senior writer, UCLA Law.

Corporations have run many “test cases” through SCOTUS. Santa Clara, in 1978, granted corporations the First Amendment right of spending on ballot initiatives.

There was much opposition to Citizens United in 2010 when corporations were given the extended First Amendment right to spend freely on local, state and federal candidate elections.

Pesticide corporate coup d’etat

There are now only seven states without “preemptive laws” set in place since 1991 when it was campaigned for by the pesticide industry lobbyists.

Washington is one of six states having the option to petition for some say in the use of pesticides in their local communities. Kitsap and Jefferson counties are currently in the process of doing just that regarding the aerial spraying of pesticides after clear cutting by the timber industry, namely Pope Resources.

This activism is being done particularly in these two counties because of the overwhelming shock of clear-cutting due to the favorable timber export market and then the “mandatory” pesticide spraying. There are many more issues in pesticide use once this gets started, like public properties and public schools in harm’s way.

Seven states have retained local control of regulating pesticides. One of those, Hawaii, is in an intensive full-out conflict with Bayer (Monsanto), the manufacturer of glyphosate.

In Oregon’s Lincoln County (west coastal area) a small group of activists passed a ballot measure to ban aerial pesticide spraying in 2017.

“Lincoln County’s effort to set its own environmental rules is a case study in an under-reported battle raging in the Northwest and across the country. Many cities, towns, and counties want to set more stringent pesticide laws, so the industry has a keen interest in keeping that decision-making power limited to state and federal government, where it holds more influence over lawmakers,” said John Abbots, an author with the Sightline Institute — an independent, nonprofit think tank.

According to Washington state law, timber harvest practices may be in the process of change. The Kitsap County Department of Community Development advised that forthcoming changes could include transferring jurisdiction from the Department of Natural Resources to Kitsap County. Where did this idea come from, we asked? Developers, we’re told. Such a change would makes it much easier for the developer and removes any community involvement, including maps or even the most basic information.

The Kitsap Environmental Coalition would like to see more oversight in the process of permitting, particularly where wetlands, water supplies, etc. are involved, and more State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) oversight.

Juries have already ruled in favor of two men who have alleged that they were poisoned by regularly using Roundup. Both men now have cancer as a result of their heavy exposure. We need to keep pesticides out of our lives.

Olds is a contributing opinion columnist. Reach her at