In wake of toxic dumping, Tamaqua Borough passes Rights of Nature ordinance, USA

Community groups in Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania, successfully passed the world's first Rights of Nature ordinance in the wake of a toxic sludge dumping conflict


Halfway between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is Tamaqua- a town and borough of about 7000 people in eastern Schuylkill Region, Pennsylvania. The town became the first U.S. municipality to recognise legal rights for nature in September, 2006. Around 100 communities have since passed ordinances seeking for scrapping the legal rights bestowed to corporations and instead granting them to ecosystems and communities around those ecosystems.

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Basic Data
NameIn wake of toxic dumping, Tamaqua Borough passes Rights of Nature ordinance, USA
CountryUnited States of America
SiteTamaqua, eastern Schuylkill County
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Waste Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Coal extraction and processing
E-waste and other waste import zones
Specific CommoditiesBiological resources
Domestic municipal waste
Manufactured Products
Industrial waste
Toxic waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsRegarding the river dredging, Army for a Clean Environment (ACE) and CEDLF mobilized, in part, against Lehigh Coal & Navigation Corporation's (LC&N) agreement (supported by state and federal agencies) to dump dredged material from the Hudson and Delaware Rivers for "mine reclamation" of a large LC&N anthracite coal pit mine- 3,600 ft long and 1,800 ft wide. The goal of the dredging was to deepen shipping channels for international corporations. LC&N representatives and Tamaqua Borough Council had agreed upon accepting 700,000 tons of river dredge, in exchange for $1.00 per ton to be paid to the Borough.

Please note that the conflict start date has been listed as the year in which Tony Behun died of a staph infection following exposure to the toxic sludge, but may not accurately reflect the exact moment that the overarching conflict began.
Project Area (in hectares)2,476.029
Level of Investment (in USD)700,000 +
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population7,000
Start Date01/01/1994
Company Names or State Enterprises Lehigh Coal & Navigation Corporation (LC&N) from United States of America - Responsible for dumping contract
Relevant government actorsDepartment of Environmental Protection

Tamaqua Borough
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCommunity Environmental Legal Defence Fund (CELDF)

The Army For A Clean Environment (ACE)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Other environmental related diseases, Deaths
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseEnvironmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Negotiated alternative solution
New legislation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Fostering a culture of peace
Withdrawal of company/investment
Project temporarily suspended
It inspired over three dozen communities in seven U.S. states –Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico, New York, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Maine –to pass local laws which codify nature’s rights. It triggered the RoN movement.
Development of AlternativesTamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania became the first U.S. municipality to adopt a local ordinance (bylaw) recognizing the rights of nature to exist, thrive and evolve in the year 2006.
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The example of Tamaqua was the first municipality across the world to recognise Rights of Nature against the giant toxix dumping companies. It inspired over three dozen communities in seven U.S. states –Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico, New York, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Maine –to pass local laws which codify nature’s rights. It triggered the RoN movement.
Sources and Materials

205 Tamaqua ordinance
[click to view]


Tamaqua Borough, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania Ordinance No. of 2006

Ordinance Banning Corporations from Engaging in Land Application of Sewage Sludge Dumping
[click to view]


Tamaqua Borough, Pennsylvania
[click to view]

Rights of Nature: A radical approach to conservation
[click to view]

Environmental Research Foundation: Municipality Bans Corporate Waste Dumping
[click to view]

Other Documents

Toxic dump in Tamaqua
[click to view]

Meta Information
Last update25/03/2019