Officials object to sludge argument,
July 4th, 2008
East Brunswick residents have criticized what they call Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett’s “condescending and arrogant tone” in comments made Tuesday about municipalities passing their own sewage sludge ordinances.
“He was suggesting that other communities do not pass ordinances, like Branch Township did on Monday night, and even suggesting the reason that they shouldn’t do that was so they shouldn’t incur additional legal expenses,” Annette Etchberger, of the Concerned Citizens of East Brunswick, said. “Then he very boldly pointed out that his attorneys were already in place.”
Branch Township passed a Land Application and Storage of Sewage Sludge Ordinance on Monday, and also voted on a resolution to support East Brunswick Township’s court case against Corbett, who says the ordinance is illegal and that the state, not local government, has the authority to regulate the use of sewage sludge.
Sludge, also known in its treated form as biosolids, has agricultural use as a fertilizer. But many townships claim the sludge is not tested thoroughly enough to eliminate components which may be harmful to the public or the environment. Other areas in Schuylkill County, like Tamaqua and Mahanoy City boroughs and Rush Township, have joined East Brunswick and Branch townships in passing ordinances regulating the use of sludge.
East Brunswick Supervisor Don Rubinkam and East Brunswick supervisors Chairman Jeff Faust also said East Brunswick Township had asked Wayne Township to declare support for East Brunswick’s ordinance and position in the legal challenge.
In a visit to Hegins on Tuesday, Corbett told The REPUBLICAN & Herald that it is unwise of Branch Township to pass its own sewage sludge ordinance in the midst of the litigation against East Brunswick.
“He talks as if we’ve lost the case already, which is something we really object to,” Rubinkam said. Etchberger said she is dissatisfied by Corbett’s statement that enforcement of state laws is his duty.
“I think he has to take a harder look at really doing his job and protecting residents who have concerns about their health and safety,” Etchberger said.
Corbett spokesman Nils Frederiksen said the complaints about the state regulations are being misdirected to the attorney general’s office, and passing local ordinances that conflict with the state is “not a rational way to change anything.”
“We’re not interested in doing anything other than making sure everyone obeys the law, which is the responsibility of the attorney general,” Frederiksen said. “What you’re talking about is asking somebody to do selective enforcement, saying ‘I know that that’s illegal, and we’ll let that pass.’ ”
If there is a compelling reason to the change the ordinance, Frederiksen said, that is a question for the Department of Environmental Protection, which is in charge of state environmental policy. And if the citizens think local municipalities should be able to impose their own regulations, that authority is set by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. “Obviously Mr. Corbett claims he’s doing his job, which I agree, he is doing his job. The issue is legislators, the issue is state government,” Faust said, adding it was the government’s job to protect the people.
Faust said others would tend to agree, and pointed to a REPUBLICAN & Herald Web site poll in which 82 percent of 225 respondents said they were in favor of allowing municipalities to pass sludge ordinances.
Those pushing for stricter sludge laws frame the debate in terms of local government rights. Rubinkam said Branch Township was “showing some guts” by passing its ordinance.
“If everyone were to live in fear, nothing would ever get changed in this country,” Rubinkam said. “If the patriots in Boston had not dumped tea in violation of British law, we would all be British subjects speaking the Queen’s English.”
From a legal point of view, Frederiksen said, the case is not about what municipalities have the ability to do. He pointed out that the challenge to East Brunswick’s ordinance was not brought by the attorney general’s office, but raised by a local farmer.
Under the ACRE law of 2005, farmers can bring cases to the attorney general for review, whereas before they could only personally sue municipalities.
Faust stressed the township’s position was not anti-farmer, and instead a response to “the state government (siding) with the sewage industry.” Rubinkam said he supports the ACRE act, but feels that it is over-extended to cover sewage sludge, which he and Faust dispute qualifies as a “normal agricultural practice.”
“I believe it was in 2003, there was 420,000 pounds of sewage placed on a 14-acre field in our township,” Faust said. “That is not a normal agricultural operation. That is waste disposal.”