When You Stop Wishing Yourself Away…
When You Stop Wishing Yourself Away…
Italian Court Upholds Ban on Monsanto GM Corn*
A regional court in Italy has upheld the country’s national ban on the planting of Monsanto’s MON810 corn.
The ruling cites the precautionary principle, which allows governments to take protective measures without having to wait for the risks to become fully realised.
The court case was brought by a farmer from the Friuli region, Giorgio Fidenato, in an attempt to overturn the ban on planting MON810.
To achieve the court win, a Task Force was mobilized for an Italy free from GMOs – with members including 39 leading associations in agriculture and the environment, such as Coldiretti, Greenpeace, Legambiente and Slow Food.
Italian agriculture is therefore GMO-free, in line with the wishes of nearly 8 out of 10 Italians. The country has already had to deal with a case of GM contamination from illegally cultivated MON810 corn.
Tanzanian Maasai Villagers Win Fight for Information about Land-Grabs and Forced Eviction*
A high-end safari operator must turn over documents and testimony about alleged land-grabbing and violence to the leaders of three Maasai villages in Tanzania, according to an order issued on April 18, 2014 by a federal magistrate judge in Boston. The villagers, assisted by EarthRights International (ERI), petitioned to receive this evidence in order to support their fight in the Tanzanian courts to recover land that they lost to Thomson Safaris and damages for violent abuses and property destruction.
The villagers’ struggle with Thomson began in 2006, when Tanzania Conservation Ltd. (TCL) acquired 12,617 acres of land known as Sukenya Farm that originally belonged to the Maasai communities of Mondorosi, Soitsambu, and Sukenya. TCL is owned by the same American businessmen as Thomson Safaris, a Watertown-based company that runs luxury tours on the disputed property, which it has developed into a private nature reserve. According to the lawsuit in Tanzania, company security guards and police officers burned Maasai homes and beat villagers who tried to gain access to the land. TCL’s occupation of Sukenya Farm – which the villagers believe to be illegal – has blocked the Maasai communities from vital water sources and contributed to their impoverishment.
Under the court order, Thomson Safaris and its owners, Rick Thomson and Judi Wineland, will turn over documents and give sworn testimony about the sale of Sukenya Farm, the alleged home burnings and beatings, and the conversion of the land from Maasai grazing territory to a deluxe private reserve.
“We believe the evidence will show that TCL and its owners knew they were buying the land illegally, and that they were complicit in the abuses the Maasai communities suffered,” said Rashid Salim Rashid, who represents the villages in their lawsuit in Tanzania, with support from Minority Rights Group.
“This is a big day for our communities,” said Daniel Ngoitiko, elected councilor of Soitsambu Ward. “The court’s decision means that U.S. companies can’t come to our home, steal our land, and abuse our people without facing accountability in their own home.”
Friday’s decision was issued under 28 U.S.C. § 1782, a law that allows people to obtain documents and information from individuals or companies in the United States to support foreign legal proceedings.
“That’s exactly why this law exists: so that people and companies in the U.S. can’t hide information about the wrongs they commit abroad,” said ERI Staff Attorney Marissa Vahlsing.
Under the court order, Thomson Safaris and its owners must turn over all documents by May 9 and give sworn testimony before the end of June.
Fracking Company Must Pay $3 Million To Sickened Family*
By Emily Atkin
A family claiming they were sickened because of pollution from hydraulic fracturing operations near their home should be awarded $2.95 million for their troubles, a jury ruled on Tuesday.
The Parr family had sued Aruba Petroleum Inc. in 2011, alleging the oil and gas producer exposed them to hazardous gases, chemicals and industrial waste that seeped into the air from 22 wells drilled near the family’s 40-acre plot of land, which sits atop the Barnett Shale.
The jury returned a 5-1 verdict saying Aruba “intentionally created a private nuisance,” awarding $275,000 for losses on property value, $2 million for past physical pain and suffering, $250,000 for future physical pain and suffering, and $400,000 for mental anguish.
“They’re vindicated,” David Matthews, one of the Parr’s attorneys, wrote on his firm’s blog Tuesday. “I’m really proud of the family that went through what they went through … It’s not easy to go through a lawsuit and have your personal life uncovered and exposed to the extent this family went through.”
A statement provided to ThinkProgress from Aruba on Wednesday lamented the jury’s verdict, but did not indicate whether it would appeal.
“The facts of the case and the law as applied to those facts do not support the verdict,” the statement read. “Aruba is an experienced oil and gas operator that is in compliance within the air quality limits set by the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.”
The Parrs — Bob, Lisa, and their daughter Emma — say they went through a health-problem ringer before realizing it could have been natural gas operations that were responsible. According to the complaint, they began experiencing symptoms like chronic nose bleeding, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, and open sores. Daily Kos blogger Sharon Wilson writes about visiting the Parrs and their eighbours, the Ruggieros, and explains their symptoms in detail:
Bob and Lisa Parr were eighbours to Tim and Christine Ruggiero in Wise County. I was there, in the Ruggiero kitchen, the day Lisa discovered that her timeline of doctor’s visits matched exactly Christine’s timeline of releases from the Aruba gas wells on her property.
I was often on the Ruggiero property and sometimes on the Parrs’. I saw the suffering of both families and experienced my own health impacts when I visited. …
Lisa’s suffered from breathing difficulties, nausea, rashes that left her scarred with pock-marks. She had biopsies of the oozing welts on her scalp and the 4 ping-pong-ball-sized lumps on her neck. Testing showed drilling chemicals in Lisa’s blood and lungs that match chemicals detected by the state in air testing outside her home.
The Parrs’ lawsuit confirms this, noting that multiple doctors visits confirmed the existence of hydrocarbon-related chemicals in Lisa’s bloodstream. In addition, the lawsuit says the Parrs experienced death of house pets and livestock, and saw “physical dwarfing” of a newborn calf. The family had to evacuate multiple times, forced to live out of Bob’s office.
The $3 million verdict was about 4.5 percent of what the Parrs had sought in their latest complaint, a cool $66 million in damages. This is because the jury rejected the Parrs’ claim that Aruba acted with malice, therefore punting their bid for exemplary damages, according to a Law360 report.
Still, the decision is being hailed as the first jury verdict in a fracking case to date. And if it’s not the first, then certainly the biggest, according to Earthjustice managing attorney Deborah Goldberg, who works closely on fracking cases. This is because fracking companies have largely able to dodge injury lawsuits over their operations.
“A lot of the earlier tort cases [against fracking companies] were dismissed because the industry was so successful at withholding information that people couldn’t draw connections between the problems and what industry were doing,” Goldberg told ThinkProgress. “Now studies are starting to be done, and people are beginning to realize that they can document what the impacts are going to be.”
In previous lawsuits where people allege health problems from fracking, Golberg said, companies have been successful in arguing that plaintiffs are unable to prove that the oil or gas extraction process was the actual cause of injury. Indeed, Aruba tried the same thing in this case, according to the company’s statement.
“We contended the plaintiffs were neither harmed by the presence of our drilling operations nor was the value of their property diminished because of our natural gas development,” Aruba’s Wednesday statement read. “We presented thorough and expert testimony from recognized toxicologists and medical professionals, as well as local real estate professionals, to help the jury make an informed decision. Unfortunately they returned a verdict that we believe is counter to the evidence presented.”
A gradual increase in information about fracking’s health impacts was probably the reason the Parrs were able to prove to an unbiased jury that they were, in fact, harmed, Goldberg said.
“[The companies] really had an effective campaign of secrecy that protected them,” she said. “But now, as we get more and more information about what the impacts of this industry really are, I think we’re going to see more and more of these kinds of verdicts.”