Cape Cod needs its own bill of rights
By Lee Roscoe
The Cape Cod Times
Mar. 17, 2016
The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates will vote on a home rule charter amendment proposed by the delegate from Provincetown, Dr. Brian O’Malley.
The amendment is a bill of rights, which, in simplest terms, would give citizens of the county legal standing to defend Cape Cod’s unique ecosystems. These rights, also called rights of nature, have been or are being passed as bylaws, ordinances and amendments to governance in hundreds of U.S. municipalities and nations, including, in the U.S., in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, and outside the U.S., in Bolivia, Ecuador, Wales and England. They have already been used effectively to counter threats such as fracking or forest clear-cutting to maintain the right to clean water, clean energy, organic farming and more.
The bill of rights is a tool to be added to our environmental protection toolbox. It is not a law or regulation, and it does not say anything about enforcement of any kind.
Our bill of rights was created specifically for Barnstable County. It would allow our local community to defend water, air and land from chemical trespass, such as Eversource’s spraying or Pilgrim’s radiation releases. With climate change and increasing threats to our local environment, a bill of rights would give towns more control against state and federal regulations that may not always serve the Cape’s best interests. It would give us clout to better regulate and conserve our own resources. It would give our county more standing with issues we can’t even imagine today. And it would give each of our towns another legal recourse to help defend themselves against damaging corporate intrusions.
On March 2, a packed house came to the assembly meeting to say yes to the bill of rights as a positive assertion of the community’s declared support for a commitment to a sustainable Cape environment and for the economy so linked to it in every way — whether that be through fishing, local organic growers, tourism, the health of our drinkable and swimmable waters, or property values.
Some of the 18 or more voices in favor were conservationists such as Ed DeWitt, director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod; Wellfleet Selectman Helen Miranda Wilson; Dennis Minsky, chairman of the Provincetown Conservation Commission; and Jim Wolf, sustainable energy director for Cape Air. In addition were Mike Hall, Realtor; Nancy Eldredge, Wampanoag elder; Dr. Jim Garb, a physician with a specialty in environmental illnesses; Laura Kelley of Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer, founder of the bill of rights committee; and Orleans attorney Bruce Taub, who cited the 10th Amendment as legal support for this kind of addition to governance. Writers and biologists, health professionals, fishermen and local growers also spoke or were present in favor of the bill of rights.
Three opposed voiced concerns, which are unfounded. We want to address them: A bill of rights would not create a bureaucracy of new regulations or officials. It would cost nothing and create no new fees. It would not be proscriptive — in other words, it would not tell us what to do. It would not add more responsibilities of duties to county or town governments. It would serve only as a defense and protection, as well as a possible way to give the county and the assembly new vigor of purpose and structure.
The bill of rights initiative was a collective one, starting with a dozen or so concerned citizens from across the Cape.
We hope the citizens of the Cape will let their Assembly of Delegates know they are in favor of the following: We ask that the Assembly of Delegates allow the bill of rights to pass by a minimum 66 percent so it can go to the Legislature for necessary approval and get onto the ballot in November so all Cape voters to decide for themselves. We appreciate the assembly’s courtesy in allowing discussion of this important issue and hope it will bring it forward to the people it represents.
— Lee Roscoe lives in Brewster. This piece was written on behalf of the ad hoc Barnstable Bill of Rights Committee and was also signed by fellow members.
To see the article, Click HERE