Winners of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize

For the past quarter century, San Francisco’s Goldman family has been honoring grassroots environmental activists from around the world. The prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded to six honorees each year, and includes $150,000. We’ll talk to several of the 2014 winners who will be recognized at a ceremony in San Francisco on Monday.

Helen Slottje, 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for North America, former corporate lawyer fighting fracking in New York using a legal loophole enabling towns to challenge fracking through zoning laws; her efforts have resulted in numerous bans on fracking throughout the state
Desmond D'Sa, 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient for Africa; a South African activist inspired by the late Nelson Mandela who worked to shut down one of the largest toxic dumping sites in an area of post-apartheid south Durban, dubbed "cancer valley" by residents for the high rates of leukemia

  • Chomsky_P

    Can Helen explain why landowners, who sign these leases, do not understand what they are signing? They have a strong interest in understanding them, and they likely want the money and accept some tradeoffs for the money, so what evidence do you have that they really are too dumb to understand what they are signing?

    • 99to1

      First off, she didn’t say there were “too dumb.”
      Secondly, having worked on scores of such cases, I’m pretty certain Slottje has plenty of evidence to back up her claims, certainly more than you have adduced to the contrary.

      Two possible answers to your question:

      (1) Most legal documents are impenetrable, deliberately so. This facilitates unconscionable behavior under color of legality. Lawyers can and do lie, strategically, to get what their clients want; in this case, unfettered access to oil — the environment and landholders’ rights be damned.

      (2) Ms. Slottje mentioned “flipping” briefly in passing without elaboration, but it seems to me the concept is simple:

      You get a front company to acquire the rights under a fictional premise that has little or nothing to do with fracking, and then turn right around and transfer those rights to the actual interested party, the fracking entity, who uses an initial straw buyer as a front to conceal their intentions for the land. Unless there is a clause in the agreement forbidding subsequent transfer of deed or subleasing of rights, the original title holder has nothing more to say in the matter after they assign title or rights to the initial party.

      • Chomsky_P

        She did answer my question, and mentioned Cornell professors who A) believed what “land men” told them and B) didn’t read the fine print in the document. So her answer was that they were not too dumb – they were PhD professors (at least some were). If their legal knowledge is lacking, then you do what seems to me to be standard practice in cases like these – you hire a lawyer to go over the fine print with you. I am sure these folks do that for wills, divorces, etc. And they don’t bother with a contract dealing with their property? It seems like there is more to the story.

        I am sure there were some duped people who were lied to, and that these companies took advantage of some, but I would guess that more people were simply attracted to the quick buck and didn’t bother to consider the full consequences, and thus they deserve some blame as well.

        • 99to1

          You may blame the non-lawyer, non-energy people for being taken advantage of, if for some reason, it makes you feel better about the asymmetrical forces grinding the common people to dust these days. Sure, yeah, they’re lazy and greedy and had it coming to them!
          Does that make you feel more in control of your own perilous flight path?
          It sure is a lot easier to blame little individual people instead of the big organized crime syndicates running the major corporations and institutions of so-called democracy these days.

          I think blame is better pointed in the direction of the fracking industry causing earthquakes and poisoning water tables. I think that indusry is self-evidently lacking in ethical or moral self-restraint.

          Obviously you don’t.
          Perhaps you should write to Slottje and tell her she obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about, and you do.
          Tell the Goldman prize people they made a big mistake.

          Better yet, why don’t you write checks to all the people you think should have hired lawyers to read the indecipherable pages of beguilement sent to them? Lead by example!

          How many of the impenetrable Internet terms of service agreements you are presented for every web service you have an account with, do you read? And do you understand those? And if you don’t understand them, do you then desist from using the associated websites or services?
          If you say yes, I won’t believe you.

          • Chomsky_P

            I don’t read them, but you know that the magnitude of signing away land rights and agreeing to download a program are a bit different. With more at stake, people pay more attention. I know I do, which is why I doubt that the companies deserve all the blame.

            Main point – let’s not lose sight. Neither of us know the finer details. But given how intelligent the people were that were involved, I am suspect of any story that blindly blames fracking companies. I have no idea which side deserves more, and perhaps the frackers do, but I do feel better when people in this world are not behaving with evil intent, and that implies that both sides deserve some blame when things go wrong rather that the blame resting entirely with the frackers. To assume that the big corporations are always at fault is to assume that they are evil (or morally lacking) and I have found that the finer details of a situation rarely support that.

            You on the other hand seem to want to go down that path, and I don’t think corporation bashing is very illuminating. After all, they are people like us – they don’t have a monopoly on hiring bad people. We can agree that the corporate form has its costs, but it also has its benefits (you may not agree there), but I bet you enjoy many things in this world that are the result of your so-called organized crime syndicate.

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