BREAKING: Gas Company Files Federal Lawsuit To Overturn Small Pennsylvania Township’s Rights of Nature Law…Again
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 15, 2020
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Pennsylvania Community Organizer
‘The fossil fuel industry is terrified the tactics taken in Grant Township are spreading.’
Grant Township, Indiana County, PA: Last Wednesday, Pennsylvania General Energy Company (PGE) sued Grant Township in federal court – for a second time – to overturn the community’s law banning frack waste injection wells. The law, drafted with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), includes language recognizing the rights of local ecosystems and was democratically adopted by over 70% of Township voters in 2015. Injection wells threaten drinking water, cause earthquakes, and have been shut down in states such as Ohio and California. The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also sued Grant Township in 2017, making last week’s filing the third lawsuit to be filed against the Township (pop. 700) for trying to protect its drinking water.
Jon Perry, Chairman of the Grant Township Board of Supervisors, said, “So here we go again. PGE throwing another lawsuit at us to try to bring us to heel, when our community has overwhelmingly said ‘hell no’ multiple times. PGE tried but couldn’t sell this well during this time of economic ruin, and so instead has delivered our community a Christmas present that blames our valid local law for its problems and is suing us again.”
In March 2020, the DEP cited the law as valid in a decision denying PGE a permit to inject waste. PGE is still appealing that decision, and its filings have revealed that the company has been trying to sell the well.
Meanwhile, less than two months ago, in October, a conventional gas well that PGE operates in the Township failed, and has now been shut down and plugged. Dozens of dump containers were filled with contaminated soil and hauled away. At no point did the DEP or PGE notify Grant Township officials of this. That site is less than a mile from the proposed injection well.
Chad Nicholson, CELDF organizer in Pennsylvania, said, “The fossil fuel industry is terrified the tactics taken in Grant Township are spreading. This community continues to act as a lighthouse in a raging storm made up of oil and gas corporations, state permitting agencies, and enabling courts that have crashed down on them for over five years. Yet they remain standing, protecting their own community. They serve as both a warning signal to other communities, as well as a beacon of hope and courage to those who wish to fight back. We at CELDF are proud to continue to stand with them in their fight to protect their water and their community.”
PGE’s actions come as the fossil fuel industry and sympathetic state legislators continue to ratchet up their opposition to Rights of Nature nationwide. On December 1, 2020, the American Petroleum Institute, perhaps the most influential fossil fuel lobby in the nation, filed a brief in opposition to a federal civil rights case brought by CELDF, in defense of local Ohio communities’ right to vote on qualified Rights of Nature laws. Also on December 1, 2020, a bill (HB 54), to try to ban Rights of Nature in the courts, was introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives, continuing a national trend.
Mar 25, 2020
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection enforces local Grant Township law in revoking permit for dangerous frack waste injection well
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2020
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Pennsylvania Community Organizer
GRANT TOWNSHIP, INDIANA COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: In an extraordinary reversal, last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) revoked a permit for a frack waste injection well in Grant Township. DEP officials cited Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter banning injection wells as grounds for their reversal.
Injection wells are toxic sewers for the fracking industry that cause earthquakes, receive radioactive waste, and threaten drinking water and ecosystems.
Township residents popularly adopted a Home Rule Charter (local constitution) in 2015 that contains a “Community Bill of Rights.” The Charter bans injection wells as a violation of the rights of those living in the township and recognizes rights of nature. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted in drafting the Charter.
In 2017, DEP issued a permit to legalize an injection well in Grant, and simultaneously sued the township. The agency claimed that Grant’s Home Rule Charter – which protects the local environment – interfered with the DEP’s authority to administer state oil and gas policy.
Yet, in a stunning about-face, DEP enforced Grant’s law and rescinded the injection well permit, last week. “Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter bans the injection of oil and gas waste fluids,” the DEP writes. “Therefore, the operation of the Yanity well as an oil and gas waste fluid injection well would violate that applicable law.”
Since 2014, Township residents have faced a variety of intimidation tactics, including lawsuits, from the corporation behind the injection well (Pennsylvania General Energy), the oil and gas industry, and their own state government and agencies. They have not backed down, even in the face of potential municipal bankruptcy. They have continued to assert and protect their community’s rights.
“We are over the moon that the permit was rescinded,” said Grant Township Supervisor Vice-Chair Stacy Long. “However, we know the permit should never have been issued in the first place. We can’t forget that DEP sued us for three years, claiming our Charter was invalid. Now they cite that same Charter as a valid reason to deny the industry a permit. It’s hypocritical at best. Add this to the pile of reasons Grant Township did not trust the DEP to protect our environment, and why we’ve had to democratically work at the local level to protect our community.”
“This decision does not validate the actions of the DEP, but rather vindicates the resistance that communities like Grant have engaged in to force governmental agencies into doing the right thing,” says CELDF Pennsylvania Organizer Chad Nicholson. “DEP has been acting in bad faith. I’m glad they revoked the permit. But it took them too long to do what all governments should be doing: enforcing democratically-enacted local laws that protect public health and safety.”
Grant Township is aware that the industry and/or state agencies, such as DEP, may sue them again. As of today, there is no injection well in Grant Township.
Grant Township is advancing constitutional law in Pennsylvania while protecting its water and recognizing the rights of nature
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 4, 2020
Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Pennsylvania Community Organizer
GRANT TOWNSHIP, INDIANA COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: On Monday, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court rebuked a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) attempt to dismiss Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter, calling DEP’s motion a “collateral attack,” and finding it was “without merit.”
The judge’s decision allows Grant Township to argue that local governing authority is necessary to protect the community’s constitutional rights in the face of harmful state oil and gas policies.
Since 2014, residents of Grant Township (pop. 700) have been threatened with a frack wastewater injection well. These wells are a toxic sewer for the fracking industry, known to receive radioactive waste and cause earthquakes.
In 2015, Township residents popularly adopted a Home Rule Charter (local constitution) containing a “Community Bill of Rights.” The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) assisted in drafting the measure, which bans injection wells as a violation of the rights of those living in the township. It also recognizes rights of nature. In 2017, the DEP sued Grant, claiming the local charter interfered with its ability to enforce state oil and gas policy.
To reiterate: the Department of Environmental Protection sued Grant Township for trying to protect the environment.
“Grant Township realized that the DEP has no ear for hearing that a radioactive frack waste dump is a dangerous and bad project for a rural, poor community like ours,” said Grant Township Supervisor Vice-Chair Stacy Long. “DEP’s job is to permit a certain amount of damage, and then try to mitigate it after the damage occurs. That is unacceptable to the people of this community, and so we said ‘NO.’ And then we got sued by our own DEP. We’re glad our case continues.”
“We’re happy to continue to stand with Grant Township in the face of DEP’s bullying,” said Chad Nicholson, CELDF Pennsylvania Community Organizer. “Grant’s creative and staunch resistance to the industry and their own hostile state government has ensured that there is still no injection well in Grant. But the fight needs to continue until all communities, including Grant, are able to protect themselves from harmful corporate activities.”
On Sept. 17, 2019, a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution was introduced into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (HB 1813) to secure powers for local governments to ban harmful activities such as injection wells.
The full court docket is available to view here.
Retired Special Projects Engineer for
Health Care Products Company for 40 years
(but from Northumberland County)
Community Group Name:
Organizations United for the Environment
Largest hazardous waste incinerator east of the Mississippi being proposed
to go in Union County PA
Year(s) story takes Place:
Union Pacific was proposing an incinerator- they bought 800 acres- and the citizens did not know anything about it until the last minute. Everything was done undercover. The community found out just 2-3 months before ground was to be broken.
The community held it off for 4 years and eventually won.
Regularly 1000 people would show up for events/actions.
In the 1940s the government had come in and bought over 3000 acres in Lycoming & Union Counties. People were told they had one month to get out. It was a case of Eminent Domain. There were 209 properties seized. The town was called Elvira.
The purpose was to build munitions for the war (WWII).
All the houses were torn down and the town was torn down (businesses & homes).
Government used the facility to build TNT for 1.5 years. Then shut it down and buried everything, with pipes leading to the river to drain all excess fluids.
(There are still bunkers on the property, which is now owned by Allenwood Prison)
In the 70s there was a threat of the Lycoming Landfill- and that is when the OUE was developed. That landfill facility- small contingency fought but lost…
But for the incinerator- the main reason they won is because they did “uncivil protests.” The org would run officials out of meetings. They would go to the homes of people who worked for Union Pacific- circle their homes for hours- with 30-40 cars. They went to their home towns and distributed pamphlets about the individuals on the UP board- roadblock areas- had signs on every major highway.
The UP took legal action against OUE.
The workers had to have people follow them around for safety-
The people of Elvira were tired of being pushed around.
After that was over in ’94- kept the group kept working over years- fought two more incinerators- and won. Fought corporate farms from being built- and they won some and lost some. The OUE was a place people could go to talk about how the government was limiting their rights and their voices. They created a newsletter that went out 3X a year- and that is how they created their money.
(8 pages long- with all the stories of updates).
Warren City, Warren County, PA
Resisting shale drilling wastewater dumping in our City, our River and our rural roads.
2010 – 2019
I was simply a resident in the West Side neighborhood of the City of Warren, not involved in any political action, until 8 years ago when we learned through a reporter’s “leak” of a “secret” plan to place a Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater plant in our neighborhood, actually on our street! An outside developer had partnered with our city officials secretly to put these plans into place.
In September 2010,two next door neighbors delivered flyers to every address in the West Side, asking residents to come to a community meeting to find out about this. 44 neighbors came to that first meeting. We formed the West Side Alliance as an informal group of neighbors, friends and residents in the City to protect our homes and our neighborhood.
After having our Right to Know requests ignored, we held a public forum and invited the developer to present his plans and answer questions from the public. He warned that the plans involved “private businesses” and that the residents’ concerns about the degrading or their quality of life, health and property had no place in the process.
We investigated these plans, discovering 3-1/2 years of secret planning and business deals with our city government, and a funding stream of taxpayer dollars from the state. We discovered investor groups with secret members. We studied Marcellus Shale waste practices and technologies. We talked to people who did this work “hands on”. We learned that the chemicals used are trade secrets and that the wastewater contains carcinogens and radioactivity which would be brought here to our street and would threaten the health, air, water and quality of life of all Warren residents.
We could get no response from any elected representatives. We looked for an organization that could help – we found the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. They had helped the City of Pittsburgh and other communities, in many cases getting it on the ballot for the citizens to decide and we liked that idea! We obtained 432 voter’s signatures to put a question on the local Ballot in our Home Rule City. It was a rocky road. City government fought it all the way to Commonwealth Court.
The City muscled the County Board of Elections into keeping it off the ballot. Our group, represented by Tom Linzey of CELDF, brought suit against the Board of Elections for acting improperly, who then endorsed the ballot question. The City sued the Board of Elections. We joined as a third party intervenor in County Court, which found in our favor. The City appealed to Commonwealth Court to stop the referendum. That court refused to accept the case, stating that plaintiff action must wait until after the election. The referendum was on the ballot by October 20th for the November 8th election. With very little time and even less money we bought 22 signs and no paid ads. We canvassed voters’ homes and wrote letters to the newspaper. We were opposed by an industry trade group who spent thousands of dollars and put up hundreds of signs. The newspaper supported the developer’s claims on the front page. We won 37% of the vote; not winning the election but winning the battle: no new plant and the developer in the wind along with many thousands of state grant monies. The missing money was taken up by a statewide grand jury based in Pittsburgh less than a year later. But that’s another story.
What started out as “grass roots” action to save our homes and neighborhood grew into something on-going in Warren. Two years later we stepped up again to prevent further destruction in our section of the Allegheny River from 7 years of shale drilling wastewater discharged into it by a local “old” oil brine plant. The destruction of the river had been tested and proven by extensive federal and state studies. The EPA designated our part of the river as “impaired”. US Fish & Wildlife described it as a “dead zone”. The Duncan Blvd neighborhood across the river, just downstream from the plant, joined in fighting to clean up and protect our river. By reaching out to groups downriver, we provided the testimony and local “standing” for a federal lawsuit against the plant, based on the destruction of federal protected mussels. Federal district court allowed mediation to require the plant to upgrade their facilities to the tune of 1.8 million dollars. They had a deadline to stop discharging into the river until that was accomplished. The end result was the plant closed in early 2017. The 2.64 miles of the Allegheny River directly downstream from the plant remains a “dead zone” with no life. The Duncan Blvd group submitted a plan to dredge the worst part of the radiated sediment to a grant agency in Pittsburgh. We have not received funding and continue to seek ways to update testing of the sediment and apply for funds to dredge the area. This continues with a “new” local group, the Ad Hoc Environmental Group of Warren, who supported the work to establish a moratorium on spreading of “brine” from oil and shale drilling on local dirt roads. That moratorium is statewide since early 2018.The action is on-going as the PA state legislature continues to craft bills to radically rewrite oil and gas regulations to benefit the industry.
In conclusion, I express my heartfelt gratitude to CELDF. This is what it’s like to work with CELDF: every step of the way they inject you with fearlessness, bolster your resolve, offer insights that make things clear, and stand right by you, unflinching, with unconditional support. A partnership like that is incomparably valuable, as it extinguishes fear destroys limits and makes everything possible.
Cliff Stump, retired Paper Mill pipe fitter
Ridgeway Township, Elk County PA
Let Us make our Own Decisions.
In 2008, I saw an article in the paper that a man named Ben Price (works for Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund) was coming to town in DuBois as part of a plan to fight fracking here.
It made sense to me. Fracking was destroying us. There are wells everywhere. They drill a well and move on. There ain't no pipelines to take the gas away, so first we had the wave of drillers coming in and bullying leases off of folks. Now we'll have the pipelines taking over.
I went down to the meeting with Ben. I wanted to support our community going to home rule, so we could make our own decisions.
Our home rule campaign was hard. We got the government study commission passed and set up to recommend home rule. But home rule didn't pass.
The people in power lied. There were lies being spread about taxes going up. We didn't have enough time to teach our neighbors the truth about fracking, and how home rule would give them more power to protect themselves.
I ran for supervisor. You see, our township had to redo their industrial zoning in order to let fracking in. They hired a consultant, met every month in order to get this changed. The people- me and my neighbors, came to convince them against this. We were concerned about our water. We'd heard stories from other places. We all have well water. Supervisors said they have nothing to do about water, that it is a state issue to protect our water, not something that could be done a the township level. Well, it should be. If we can't protect our water, what good is the local government?
We asked about the air. Our supervisors said they have nothing to do about the air- that too is something the state regulates. The supervisors were taken by the industry. The supervisors gave the township away. They were all together in this shit- together with the industry. They said they couldn't do anything to stop it. And that may be true. Pre-emption keeps them from having certain powers. But they could have tried. They could have challenged the right of these outside companies from damaging and threatening our lives.
The people in the township disagreed with the supervisor. We wanted to protect our water and air. We wanted to find a way to NOT let the industry in.
The supervisors accepted the industry's terms. Accepted that fracking was coming. Believed the lies it would be good for our community.
I believe in the Community Rights Work. If we are going to stop the power of the industry, we have to be able to stop it in our own communities. I still work with PACRN because we need to make a change.
PRESS RELEASE: CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ANNOUNCED TO SECURE THE RIGHT OF LOCAL COMMUNITY SELF-GOVERNMENT
Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (D-Chester) Introduces A Constitutional Amendment To Give Our Communities More Power to Protect Health, Safety, and Welfare
October 4, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck, PA Community Rights Network, President
Yesterday, Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (D-Chester) introduced an amendment to the PA Constitution, HB1813, which would secure the right of local community self-government. This proposed amendment has grown out of the foundation laid by the PA Community Rights Network, which has worked with communities across PA for nearly a decade.
Rep. Otten was joined in her announcement by local elected officials and community leaders from her district including:
-Bill Miller: Uwchlan Township Supervisor, Chairman
-Rebecca Britton: Downingtown Area School District, Board Member; Uwchlan Safety Coalition, Co-Founder
-Erin Buchner: Moms Demand Action, Chester County Local Lead
-Dianne Herrin: West Chester Borough, Mayor
-Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck: PA Community Rights Network, President; Lancaster Against Pipelines, Co-Founder
Pennsylvania communities have been handcuffed when it comes to making important decisions, on important issues. Preemptive laws passed by our legislature have removed meaningful decision-making authority from local elected officials and community leaders. Those laws also protect corporate interests at the expense of community health and safety.
Here’s a short list of those issues: Fossil fuel pipelines, single-use plastics, common sense gun oversight, fracking and frack waste dumping, minimum wage and other labor protections, factory farms, sewage sludge dumping, police and prison oversight, campaign finance abuse, toxic waste incinerators. The list goes on and on.
“We can’t keep fighting every single harmful intrusion, every single time, for the rest of our lives,” said Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck, board president for the PA Community Rights Network. “The time is long past due to make sure that our constitution secures the rights of ‘We the People’ to make decisions in our best interests, and to determine our own future. HB 1813 does that, and we’re proud to stand with Rep. Otten and leaders across the state as we work to make this not just an aspiration, but a reality.”
PACRN is a 501c3 nonprofit dedicated to helping Pennsylvania communities establish local self-governance, social justice,