State Agency Suspends Review of Injection Well Permit Application Because of Local Rights-Based Ordinance


Stacey Schmader
Administrative Director

MERCERSBURG, PA:  On August 12, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took an unprecedented step, for the first time suspending the issuance of a state frack wastewater injection well permit on the basis of a local ordinance banning injection wells.

In a letter mailed to Pennsylvania General Energy Company, LLC (PGE), the state agency notified the corporation that it was suspending its review of the company’s permit application to site an injection well in Grant Township (Indiana County).  The DEP letter states that “as part of its permit application review, the Department has an obligation to consider applicable local ordinances related to environmental protection and the Commonwealth’s public natural resources.”

The letter comes as PGE is suing Grant Township to overturn the Township’s Community Bill of Rights Ordinance prohibiting injection wells.  The Ordinance, drafted with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), establishes the community’s right to self-govern on matters such as fracking, and recognizes the rights of human and natural communities to a healthy environment and pure water.  Under the Ordinance, frack injection wells are prohibited as a violation of those rights.

PGE filed its lawsuit against Grant Township in July 2014, a month after the Grant Township Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to enact the Community Bill of Rights Ordinance.  The suit is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania, and the federal court has denied PGE’s request for injunctive relief and discovery.

In the suit, PGE claims that the Ordinance violates its corporate constitutional “rights,” and has asked the court to penalize Grant Township for the adoption of the Ordinance through payment of damages and attorneys’ fees to the corporation.

CELDF is serving as lead counsel for the Township’s defense of its Ordinance, and the defense of the rights of the people and ecosystems recognized within the Ordinance.

In addition, CELDF attorneys have filed a motion for the Little Mahoning Watershed ecosystem and the East Run Hellbenders Society to intervene in the litigation.  This is the first instance of an ecosystem in the United States filing an intervention motion to defend its legal rights as recognized by a local law.

In addition, because PGE has yet to receive a state permit to construct the injection well, CELDF has filed a motion to dismiss the case.  The motion to intervene and the motion to dismiss are currently pending before the federal court.

Through grassroots organizing and public interest law, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund works with communities across the country to establish 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 the 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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