Tired of having to deal with widespread community opposition to its massive proposed granite mine and two asphalt plants in rural Caswell County, the Carolina Sunrock corporation decided to sue those public opponents.
Apparently, Carolina Sunrock is one of those corporations who are aghast at the notion that the citizens of a mostly Black, rural, low-wealth community would dare to challenge its plans. The company’s suit targets 58 citizens with the guts and determination to fight the company’s proposals by lobbying their elected county officials and speaking out in state administrative proceedings on proposed environmental permits. The last we checked, both of those activities are — or are supposed to be — citizens’ constitutionally protected rights to petition their representatives in government. But Carolina Sunrock says those petitioning citizens should have to pay the company’s legal costs for shutting off their voices.
The Carolina Sunrock litigation appears to be a classic example of what has been called a SLAPP suit — “strategic litigation against public participation” designed to intimidate public opponents of a polluter’s actions into giving up. As meritless as the cases usually prove to be, the costs of legal defense can be more than community members of modest means are able to pay.
We and other environmental justice advocates support pollution-threatened communities’ right to stand up for their health and quality of life without fear of baseless legal retaliation. Carolina Sunrock’s SLAPP suit should be slapped down in the courts — and the corporation required to pay the citizens’ costs for defending themselves against it.