March 6, 2015

Contact: Chad Nicholson, PA Community Organizer

HIGHLAND TOWNSHIP, ELK COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA: This week, Highland Township, PA, Supervisors, with overwhelming community support, voted unanimously to defend their Community Bill of Rights banning frack wastewater injection wells rather than surrender their community’s rights. The vote was taken after Seneca Resources (Seneca) made good on a two year old threat to sue the Township to overturn the ordinance.

Pennsylvania communities are increasingly threatened by injection wells, which endanger drinking water and local aquifers, and have been linked with earthquakes in neighboring Ohio. In order to protect their community, in January 2013, Highland Township adopted a Community Bill of Rights ordinance to secure residents’ rights to local self-government, and clean air and water, by banning corporations from depositing waste from shale gas extraction within the Township. The prohibition applies specifically to the siting of disposal injection wells, which are used for fracking wastewater.

In addition to voting to defend their ordinance, the Supervisors voted to continue to retain the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) as legal representative.

Highland Township Supervisor Joe Milstead summed up the Board’s position, saying, “We have one water source, and Seneca has other disposal opportunities. Our duty is to protect the health and safety of Highland Township residents. We’re defending the ordinance.”

Seneca claims it has a “right” to inject fracking wastewater within the Township. The complaint argues that the Community Bill of Rights ordinance is unconstitutional because it violates the corporate “person’s” civil rights under the 1st, 5th, and 14th amendments, as well as the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Seneca asks the court to force the Township to pay damages for violating the corporation’s civil rights, and to force the Township to pay for the corporation’s legal fees.

Township residents assert otherwise. Highland Township’s Community Bill of Rights secures legally enforceable rights for members of the community and affirms that those rights are superior law.

Highland Township resident Marsha Buhl said, “The Constitution says that people have rights, not corporations. We stand behind our Supervisors in their decision to defend our community’s rights.”

Chad Nicholson, Pennsylvania organizer for CELDF, declared that “CELDF is proud to assist the people of Highland Township to assert their right to local self-government, and their right to clean air and water.”

Through grassroots organizing and public interest law, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund works with communities across the country to establish Community Rights to democratic, local self-governance and sustainability. CELDF has assisted close to 200 communities to ban shale gas drilling and fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other threats, and eliminate corporate “rights” when they violate community and nature’s rights.  This includes assisting the first communities in the U.S. to establish Rights of Nature in law, as well as the first communities to elevate the rights of communities above the “rights” of corporations.


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