This piece originally appeared at Downwinders At Risk:
Titan Cement is trying to build a huge new cement plant near Cape Fear in North Carolina. People who live there are putting up quit a fight to prevent them from doing that. In order to get these people to settle down, Titan sued a couple of local residents, Kayne Darrell and pediatrician David Hill, who made comments at a County Commissioners’ meeting that went like this:
“…we know from numerous studies that if we build this thing, more children will get sick, a handful of them will die. We also know from the adult studies that more adults will get sick and quite a few more of them are going to die as well Which ones? Can’t tell you. That makes it difficult, but there will be some.”
Quite right. We know all these things because numerous scientific studies show a very straight-forward relationship between the kinds of crud put out by cement plants and rates of asthma, heart attacks, strikes, etc. There is nothing the least slanderous or libelous about saying so. And yet Titan sued in hopes of intimidating not only the two citizens it sued, but everyone else who wanted to speak up but now would be afraid of getting sued.
That’s how SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) suits work. No one ever expects to win a case. If you’re a company, you win just by filing because it shuts people up, or a least that’s the intent. Well, today comes word that Titan and the citizens have “settled” the case and Titan now “recognizes that reasonable minds have the right to disagree, and respect both Dr. Hill and Ms. Darrell’s right to do so.”
Isn’t that precious? The Greek Multinational Cement Giant agrees that the quaint American First Amendment is still the law of the land here. In organizing, we often say it’s all about relationships and the Titan press release on the matter seems to bear this out. “Prior to today’s mediation, we had not personally met and spoken with Dr. Hill and Ms. Darrell,” Titan said in a statement. “Having done so, we do not believe that either Dr. Hill or Ms. Darrell intentionally made any false statements about Titan or our plant in New Hanover County.”
So you know, all it took was seeing that in fact these citizens were not horned devils for the company to change its mind. For his part, Dr. Hill would not comment on the resolution Wednesday except to say, “I look very much forward to being able to focus all my energy on my efforts to improve the health of children in this region.” Both defendants will release a statement in the next 24 hours according to their attorney. Meanwhile, Titan won its state air permit, but it’s still not a free and clear path to construction.
Photo: Downwinders At Risk