Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection Sues Towns for Trying to Protect Their Environment

Rural America In These TimesMarch 30, 2017

In 2016, chemicals detected in the state's drinking water prompted the Pennsylvania Medical Society to call for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

Frack­ing injec­tion wells, which blast mil­lions of gal­lons of water mixed with chem­i­cals deep under­ground to expand fis­sures in the rock, have trig­gered earth­quakes and pol­lut­ed drink­ing water in sev­er­al states. In order to pre­vent ener­gy cor­po­ra­tions from dump­ing tox­ic waste­water in their com­mu­ni­ties, two Penn­syl­va­nia town­ships draft­ed local con­sti­tu­tions ban­ning the practice. 

Pro­vid­ing anoth­er exam­ple of how far down the cor­po­rate rab­bit hole state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments have gone, on March 27 the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion (DEP) — the state agency with the mis­sion to pro­tect Penn­syl­va­ni­a’s air, land and water from pol­lu­tion and to pro­vide for the health and safe­ty of its cit­i­zens”— sued these town­ships for inter­fer­ing with the oil and gas industry. 

The Penn­syl­va­nia Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Net­work (PACRN) is a statewide, grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion work­ing to ele­vate com­mu­ni­ty inter­ests above cor­po­rate inter­ests by advo­cat­ing the right to local self-gov­ern­ment. Accord­ing to the group’s website:

The cur­rent struc­ture of law in Penn­syl­va­nia sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly strips com­mu­ni­ties of the pow­er to adopt laws to pro­tect their health and safe­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly when those laws come into direct con­flict with cor­po­rate deci­sion mak­ing. This sys­tem thus pro­hibits com­mu­ni­ties from ban­ning projects and activ­i­ties that they con­sid­er dan­ger­ous and harm­ful — every­thing from cor­po­rate fac­to­ry farms to the land dump­ing of sewage sludge and hydro-frack­ing” for nat­ur­al gas. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Penn­syl­va­nia com­mu­ni­ties have found out the hard way that the exist­ing struc­ture does not pro­vide a rem­e­dy for these prob­lems, and that a cor­po­rate minor­i­ty, with the bless­ing of the state, has almost whole­sale con­trol over our com­mu­ni­ties on almost any issue that real­ly matters. 

For 15 years, PACRN has been work­ing along­side the Com­mu­ni­ty Envi­ron­men­tal Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) — a non-prof­it, pub­lic inter­est law firm that pro­vides free and afford­able legal ser­vices to com­mu­ni­ties fac­ing threats to their local envi­ron­ment, local agri­cul­ture, local econ­o­my and qual­i­ty of life.” Thomas Linzey, a con­tribut­ing writer to Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times, is CELD­F’s exec­u­tive direc­tor and co-founder and serves as the organization’s chief legal counsel.

On March 29, CELDF issued the fol­low­ing press release:

Mer­cers­burg, PA: On Mon­day, the Penn­syl­va­nia Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion (DEP) issued per­mits to two pol­lut­ing cor­po­ra­tions. The per­mits sig­ni­fy the DEP’s approval of Seneca Resources and Penn­syl­va­nia Gen­er­al Ener­gy (PGE) inject­ing tox­ic frack waste­water into High­land Town­ship (Elk Coun­ty) and Grant Town­ship (Indi­ana County).

The per­mits are in direct vio­la­tion of demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-enact­ed Home Rule Char­ters in both Town­ships. The char­ters were draft­ed with the help of the Com­mu­ni­ty Envi­ron­men­tal Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). They estab­lished local con­sti­tu­tions that define not only gov­ern­ment struc­ture, but also rights and pro­tec­tions in the com­mu­ni­ties. High­land and Grant’s char­ters pro­hib­it the deposit­ing of frack waste as a vio­la­tion of the com­mu­ni­ties’ rights to clean air and water. Res­i­dents adopt­ed the mea­sures because injec­tion wells threat­en drink­ing water sup­plies and have caused earth­quakes in Ohio and Okla­homa, lead­ing to their shut down.

On Mon­day, the DEP also sued both Town­ships, claim­ing the char­ters unlaw­ful­ly inter­fere with state oil and gas policies.

Let’s be clear: our state agen­cies, tasked with envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion,” are legal­iz­ing harm­ful activ­i­ties by issu­ing per­mits to cor­po­ra­tions with his­to­ries of vio­la­tions. And, they are doing so against the will and sov­er­eign law of the peo­ple who live in the com­mu­ni­ty. Equal­ly egre­gious, those state agen­cies are now suing com­mu­ni­ties who dare to stand up to unjust laws that priv­i­lege cor­po­rate inter­ests above the com­mu­ni­ties’ health and safe­ty. The mean­ing of cor­po­rate-state” has nev­er been more clear; it is painful­ly obvi­ous whose inter­ests our state agen­cies serve.

Grant Town­ship Super­vi­sor Sta­cy Long said, Our com­mu­ni­ty wrote a new con­sti­tu­tion, with wide com­mu­ni­ty sup­port and input, to pro­tect our rights and our envi­ron­ment. And now we’ve been sued, not only by a cor­po­ra­tion that wants to prof­it by dump­ing tox­ic waste in our com­mu­ni­ty, but also by our own state envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion’ agency. Our fight con­tin­ues, but we also hope that the lat­est shame­ful actions by the DEP inspire oth­ers to stand with us, and stand up in their own com­mu­ni­ties, against unchecked cor­po­rate and state power.”

CELDF is proud to con­tin­ue stand­ing with both com­mu­ni­ties to resist efforts by Seneca, PGE, and the DEP to vio­late the rights of the peo­ple of High­land and Grant Townships.

Part of a larg­er movement

Penn­syl­va­nia res­i­dents and their local rep­re­sen­ta­tives are advanc­ing Com­mu­ni­ty Rights as part of the broad­er Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Move­ment build­ing across the Unit­ed States. Local com­mu­ni­ties and state Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Net­works are part­ner­ing with CELDF to advance fun­da­men­tal demo­c­ra­t­ic and envi­ron­men­tal rights. They are work­ing with CELDF to estab­lish Com­mu­ni­ty Rights and the Rights of Nature in law, and pro­hib­it extrac­tion, frack­ing, fac­to­ry farm­ing, water pri­va­ti­za­tion, and oth­er indus­tri­al activ­i­ties as vio­la­tions of those rights. Com­mu­ni­ties are join­ing togeth­er with­in and across states, work­ing with CELDF to advance sys­temic change — rec­og­niz­ing our exist­ing sys­tem of law and gov­er­nance as inher­ent­ly unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic and unsustainable.

For addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion regard­ing Grant and High­land Town­ships, con­tact CELDF at chad@​celdf.​org. To learn about the Penn­syl­va­nia Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Net­work, vis­it pacom​mu​ni​tyrights​.org. To learn about the Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Move­ment, vis­it www​.celdf​.org.

This blog’s mis­sion is to pro­vide the pub­lic ser­vice of help­ing make the issues that rur­al Amer­i­ca is grap­pling with part of nation­al discourse.
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