(NaturalNews) Four residents of a small town in Alabama are being sued for speaking out against a company that has dumped four million tons of toxic coal ash from a 2008 Tennessee spill near their homes.
In Uniontown, a poor rural town in the heart of the South’s Black Belt, Esther Calhoun, Ben Eaton, Mary Schaeffer, and Ellis Long created Black Belt Citizens for Health and Justice — an organization dedicated to fighting racial and environmental injustice.
After being sued for $30 million by the Green Group Holdings and Howling Coyote, the two companies that own the landfill, these four residents are fighting back. The slander lawsuit violates their right to speak the truth to protect their community.
Fight for civil rights
Even before the landfill opened its doors in 2007, residents have fought for their right to clean air and clean water. Their concerns intensified in 2008 when a dam at TVA’s Kingston power plant near Harriman, Tennessee, broke and a billion gallons of waste laden with contaminants including arsenic and lead leaked into a residential community and its surrounding rivers.
About 4 million tons of toxic waste scrapped from the Kingston disaster ended up being shipped by train to the landfill in Uniontown.
In 2013, 35 County residents filed a civil rights complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). The complaint cited the landfill has disproportionately harmed African-American property owners causing many problems including headaches, respiratory problems, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting, as well as unpleasant odors, fugitive dust, pest problems, and lower property values.
Sued for slander
According to the Green Group’s lawsuit, the Black Belt Citizens group used its Facebook page and website “in a false and malicious manner.” Furthermore, the suit states that the two group leaders, Esther Calhoun and Benjamin Eaton, made “knowingly false” statements about the site to the media.
Green Group and Howling Coyote claim that by raising their voice against hazardous waste in their town, the four plaintiffs have engaged in “defamation” that has harmed the company for a whopping $30 million.
The fight for clean air and water isn’t over
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is now representing Esther, Ben, Mary, and Ellis to make sure their voices are heard. The ACLU has filed a motion to lay off the suit, as it goes against “the very core of the first amendment.”
ACLU senior attorney Lee Rowland said that the reason behind the lawsuit is very clear. Just before Green Group sued Esther, Ben, Mary, and Ellis, all of them were approached by the company’s lawyers offering to drop the million-dollar lawsuit if they agreed on a few terms.
As reported by The Guardian, the four plaintiffs were asked to grant the Green Group access to their electronic devices, access to the group’s future social media postings, and extensive details about Black Belt Citizens’ membership, advocacy and communications with other environmental groups.
Furthermore, they also demanded an apology from each potential defendant and required them to withdraw the civil rights complaint filed with the EPA.
“It’s an outrage. I’m an attorney and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The company wants to force the residents not only to agree with them but to become a mouthpiece for them,” Rowland said.
She further noted that $30 million is just “an unbelievably terrifying number” when you know that the average income per capita in Uniontown is only about $8,000 per year.
“The residents are making statements of opinion, statements of emotion and passion which can’t be penalized consistent with the first amendment,” said Lee Rowland. “Green Group is using lawsuits to silence their critics.”