Thursday, July 07, 2016

Poor Black Belt residents fighting coal-ash landfill are hit with $30 million defamation suit from it

Owners of a coal-ash landfill in a poverty-stricken African American community in rural Alabama filed a $30 million lawsuit against residents who have fought the landfill, saying posts on a Facebook page have ruined the company's reputation, Kendra Pierre-Louis reports for InsideClimate News. The lawsuit, filed by the Arrowhead Landfill, Green Group Holdings and the wholly owned subsidiary Howling Coyote LLC, accuses Black Belt Citizens for Health and Justice of defamation.

Residents of Uniontown (Best Places map), which is 90 percent black and has a median household income of $14,000, unsuccessfully fought the license for Arrowhead. "When the landfill started to accept coal ash, their previous complaints about the foul air now focused on the health risks," Pierre-Louis writes. "Residents say a litany of problems—asthma, headaches, rashes, neuropathy, even the death of pets—cropped up. They filed several lawsuits, a civil-rights complaint and took to Facebook to make those grievances public."

InsideClimate News graphic
The lawsuit is being referred to as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit, seen as a move "to burden defendants with legal costs as a way of silencing dissent," Pierre-Louis writes. "Twenty-eight states have enacted protections against SLAPP suits, on the grounds that they infringe on First Amendment rights. Alabama is not one of them. Georgia, where the plaintiffs are headquartered, is."

Lee Rowland, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing the Uniontown defendants, told Pierre-Louis, "The effect of the filing is obviously intimidating. When an average citizen, let alone those who live in a town where the per-capita income is under $10,000 receive notice that they've been sued in court for $30 million ... it's hard to overstate the terror that you would feel just for speaking about your community from the heart." (Read more)

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