Dozens protest sludge lawsuit,
February 19th, 2008
Pottsville’s Centre Street became a sludge battleground Tuesday night.
About 50 East Brunswick Township residents and others rallied at 5 p.m., coinciding with Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett’s arrival for a political fundraiser inside the Greystone restaurant.
Corporations spreading sewage sludge on farmlands has some East Brunswick residents furious — and now they’re gearing up to meet the attorney general in Commonwealth Court in April.
“We’re trying to remind the attorney general what country he’s in,” said Democrat Bill Mackey, township resident and 124th Legislative District candidate. “We’re supporting the East Brunswick Township supervisors. They passed a law to protect their citizens.”
After Corbett pulled up to Greystone in a black sport utility vehicle, two township residents presented him with a 203-signature letter accusing him of stripping the township of its right to self-govern.
Corbett said his job is to simply enforce the state’s laws.
Passed by East Brunswick Township supervisors in 2006, the sludge ordinance challenges the rights of corporations to spread sewage sludge, called “biosolids” in the sewage treatment industry, and allows individuals to apply the materials only if they will pay for necessary environmental testing and take on all personal liability for environmental damage.
Residents cite health concerns and possible environmental effects as motivation for their opposition.
“I live right down the road from a farm and I’ve had asthma attacks,” Jane Shellhamer, 42, of New Ringgold, said. “I have a little one (child). They’re (her children are) 16 and 3.”
The law, however, may be on Corbett’s side.
In 2005, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed the Agriculture Community Rural Environment law, which restricted local governments’ ability to control corporate farming activity. The ACRE law gave the state the authority to set standards on controversial issues like sludge.
“They (municipalities) cannot pass laws more strict than the state law,” said Nils Frederiksen, the attorney general’s spokesman. “The law is clear. You can’t operate illegally and then thumb your nose at the law. They’re rallying to get more people to violate the law.”
Corbett defended his position to the residents before slipping into Greystone.
“If every municipality were to pass different (farming) regulations, no one would be able to conduct business,” Corbett said.
At the rally, residents didn’t hide their disdain for Corbett.
“A vote for Corbett is a vote for sludge,” one sign read.
“We live here. We decide,” another stated.
Another sign asked who would later be responsible for the township’s sick children.
Frederiksen said the attorney general’s office tried unsuccessfully to negotiate with East Brunswick Township. After stalled talks, he said the office had no choice but to file a lawsuit against the township.
Frederiksen said the case will be heard in April in Commonwealth Court. He also said if the court sides with the attorney general, the township sludge ordinance will immediately be struck down.
East Brunswick Township residents also provided The REPUBLICAN & Herald with letters addressed to state Sen. James J. Rhoades, R-29, and state Rep. David Argall, R-124.
In the letters, residents “respectfully demand” the repeal of the ACRE law and control returned to local governments.
Argall said he understands the township’s concerns.
“I opposed ACRE,” Argall said. “The problem is it takes away the local government’s options.”
Argall said as he understands the law, East Brunswick Township would be responsible for paying legal bills for the commonwealth if the township loses the case.
Champ Holman, Rhoades’ chief of staff, said Rhoades has twice proposed legislation to ban sludge completely until concerns could be addressed and “we’re sure” it isn’t harmful.
Holman said the legislation got stuck in committee. He also said Corbett was operating in line with the duty of his office.
“Whether it’s Tom Corbett or Mr. Smith, his job is to uphold the law,” Holman said.
LETTER ADDRESSED TO ATTORNEY GENERAL TOM CORBETT
Signed by 203 East Brunswick Township Residents.
Attorney General Corbett,
We, the residents of East Brunswick Township, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania are outraged that you have agreed to strip us of our right to local self-governance!
You are taking directions from waste hauling corporations who have defined dumping sewage sludge in rural Pennsylvania — AGAINST the wishes of citizens — as a “normal agricultural operation.” Protecting corporate commercial interests over the safety, health and welfare of families in rural Pennsylvania contradicts your promise as Attorney General of “Protecting Pennsylvania Families.”
In your letter to East Brunswick Township wherein you notified our local officials of your intent to bring a lawsuit against this township, you stated that we “have no authority” to protect our community, our families, our environment and our quality of life.
Your actions in this matter — STRIPPING our local government of the power to protect citizens and TAKING AWAY the rights of residents to live in a healthy environment — are unacceptable to the residents of East Brunswick.
We remind you of our RIGHTS and our AUTHORITY which are recognized by the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1 Section II, “All power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their peace, safety and happiness.”
Residents of East Brunswick.