By Douglas Karlson
Mar. 3, 2016
Much of the country is currently fascinated / horrified by a national debate, a lot of which has departed from the standard norms of discourse into uncharted territory of accusations, insults and distortions countered with more accusations, insults and distortions. Perhaps a more interesting, meaningful and civil debate is unfolding here at the county level. The Assembly of Delegates is currently considering an amendment to the Home Rule Charter that would create a Barnstable County Bill of Rights. If the Assembly approves the amendment, it would be sent to Cape towns for consideration at town meetings. At a public hearing held Wednesday, March 2, it was refreshing to hear thoughtful people quoting Thomas Jefferson’s views on constitutional amendments or citing actual scientific data to support their arguments. This was in marked contrast to much of what we have been subjected to in recent televised debates and speeches.
At issue is a county Bill of Rights that asserts the rights of local towns to enact laws protecting health, safety and welfare. That includes the right to control and limit toxins, pollutants, fertilizers and radiation. It also includes the right to clean drinking water, and the right to grow and distribute locally produced non-toxic food. In January, Provincetown Delegate Brian O’Malley submitted the proposed amendment, which would be inserted following the County Charter preamble. More that 20 people spoke before the assembly, almost all in favor of the proposed Bill of Rights, though some were opposed.
According to Orleans attorney Bruce Taub, who provided a constitutional context for the proposed amendment, such a Bill of Rights is rooted in our Constitution’s 10th Amendment, which provides that powers not specifically granted to the state or the federal governments are reserved to the people. (The actual wording of the 10th Amendment is as follows: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”) Taub explained that a Bill of Rights articulates the precepts or ideals that should guide the assembly. They are not laws themselves, but the guiding concepts and source of laws, the foundation upon which laws are made. Members of the Barnstable County community weighed in on the importance of protecting our environment. They talked about the use of Roundup weed control, pesticides, herbicides used by Eversource to clear brush along the power lines, Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, genetically modified seeds and the protection of our aquifer.
“We need to champion our local ecosystem, because it can’t speak for itself,” said author and naturalist Lee Roscoe, who expressed concern over the use of herbicides as well as the nuclear power plant in Plymouth. This Bill of Rights would ensure that Cape Codders set their own standards, rather than be forced to submit to rules set at a distance. She argued that such an assertion of rights could be a model for the rest of the nation. “These should be our decisions,” she said. “Our unique ecosystem deserves it.”
Debra McCullough, a Truro farmer, said that a corrupt political system in which large conglomerates like Monsanto have great influence over elected officials places the interests of large corporations over small communities. She said that organic farms are currently experiencing a renaissance, and expressed concern that farmers here might one day be prohibited from distributing their own seeds, which has happened elsewhere. Ed DeWitt, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, argued that the Bill of Rights would help safeguard our environment, which is our economy. “Imagine a Flint type occurrence on Cape Cod, and what that would do to our economy,” he said.
That may already be happening. Claire Berg, of Harwich, spoke of getting sick from toxic chemicals sprayed along nearby power lines. “Cancer is expensive, mowing is cheap,” said one Wellfleet resident, who said he has also been sickened by nearby spraying. “I have the right to decide what my body is exposed to,” said Berg. “I have the right to say ‘no’ to chemical trespass. We all have the right.” Dr. Jim Garb, of Yarmouth Port, who is a fellow of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, addressed that subject, too. He maintained that the Bill of Rights provides people with the legal standing to defend their right to a nontoxic environment, and to clean water. He cited unsuccessful attempts by all 15 Cape towns to stop Eversource from using toxic herbicides along the power lines. “As a physician board certified in preventive medicine, I believe that Eversource’s continuing use of these hazardous chemicals represents a significant health risk to the population of Cape Cod.”
He went on to explain that Roundup is more toxic than has been reported. He said the combination of glyphosate, the active ingredient, with other chemicals used in the herbicide, become a toxic brew. “The combination of these chemicals is up to 1,000 times more toxic than the active ingredient alone,” he said. Some towns are already taking steps to curb the use of poisons. Helen Miranda Wilson, Wellfleet selectman, recently introduced a bylaw for Wellfleet’s spring town meeting. She noted that with other land-use bylaws, towns have the right to enact regulations that are stricter that those of the state. She thinks that local municipalities taking a stand on the use of pesticides, herbicides and avicides is part of an environmental movement whose time has come. Not everyone supported the proposed measure. Phyllis Sprout, a Mashpee farmer, uses pesticides and said that just because they are synthetic doesn’t mean they are more toxic. She maintained that the Bill of Rights was not needed, and infringed on property rights. “It’s almost a slap in the face to every local board of health, saying that they can’t do their job.” Leo Cakounes, a Barnstable county commissioner and Harwich farmer, praised the passion expressed by many who spoke in favor of the Bill of Rights, but argued that such a measure exceeds the authority and purpose of the Assembly of Delegates.
But the vast majority who took up nearly every seat in the audience supported the proposed Bill of Rights, and urged the assembly to vote for it, and then let voters weigh in at Town Meeting. “How does this not already exist? It’s awesome!” said Suzanne Bryan, of Eastham, who works as a fisheries observer at NOAA.
After hearing from the public, Assembly Speaker Ron Bergstrom cut off debate. Lacking sufficient time to discuss the issue further, a vote was tabled until a future session.
See original article HERE