Corporate State – Courts, Elected Officials, and Corporate Lawyers – Conspire to Allow Dumping of Toxic Waste


Residents Continue to Fight for Rights; Home Rule on the Horizon



Chad Nicholson, Pennsylvania Community Organizer

Highland Township, Elk County, PA: This week, any illusions of democracy died in Highland Township. In three days, three Township supervisors, corporate lawyers, and a judge, overturned three years of work by residents to protect their community from Seneca Resources’ proposed fracking wastewater injection well.

Last Wednesday, Township Supervisors – no longer representing the people – repealed the Township’s Community Rights ordinance banning injection wells. They were unmoved by residents’ objections.

On Thursday, the Supervisors filed a “consent decree” with Seneca, removing any local obstacles to the dumping of that waste.

On Friday, a federal judge accepted the settlement between the Supervisors and the corporation, and refused to allow Township residents to intervene in the proceedings to protect the residents’ rights.

“The government of, by, and for the people is a joke,” said Sue Swanson, a resident of Highland Township, who also serves on the local Water Authority. “We’ve been working tirelessly to protect our rights and our water for three years, only to find that we’ve been shut out at every level of government. What a farce.”

Injection wells have been known to pollute water supplies, cause earthquakes, and reduce property values. The injection well proposed by Seneca Resources threatens local drinking water.

In January 2013, with broad community support, Township Supervisors adopted a Community Bill of Rights ordinance prohibiting injection wells as a violation of rights.

The Water Authority originally spearheaded the drafting of the Ordinance in 2012. A local group, Citizen’s Advocating a Clean Healthy Environment (CACHE), and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), assisted in the drafting. The Ordinance was the community’s refusal to accept the frack wastewater injection well, and their insistence on protecting their rights.

In February 2015, Seneca Resources sued the Township, claiming the Ordinance violated Seneca’s purported corporate “rights,” and that the Township lacked the authority to adopt the Ordinance.

With overwhelming community support, the Supervisors refused to be bullied by Seneca and worked with CELDF to defend the Ordinance. However, a recent vacancy on the Board of Supervisors allowed for a newly-constituted Board of Supervisors to come to power. One of the Supervisors was unelected – appointed by a local judge rather than elected by citizens.

In repealing the Ordinance, Supervisors claimed the lawsuit could raise taxes, and that the Ordinance was “illegal.”

Marsha Buhl, President of CACHE, stated, “When did it become ‘illegal’ to protect our water and our rights? And when did it become ‘legal’ for a polluting corporation, with a history of permit violations, to dump toxic waste into our Township? It’s a sad day to be a resident in Highland Township. We are fighting on. Stay tuned for Home Rule.”

Currently, a Government Study Commission is writing a new Home Rule charter for the Township, which may include a new form of governance, and new processes for how important decisions get made. It may be voted on as early as November.


Pennsylvania Communities Part of Growing Movement

Highland Township residents and other communities across the state are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights Movement building in the United States. Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance fundamental democratic and environmental rights. They are working with CELDF to establish Community Rights and the Rights of Nature in law, and prohibit extraction, fracking, factory farming, water privatization, and other industrial activities as violations of those rights. Communities are joining together within and across states, working with CELDF to advance systemic change – recognizing our existing system of law and governance as inherently undemocratic and unsustainable.


Additional Information

For additional information regarding Highland Township, contact CELDF at To learn about the Pennsylvania  Community Rights Network, visit To learn about the Community Rights Movement, visit


About CELDF — Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit, public interest law firm providing free and affordable legal services to communities facing threats to their local environment, local agriculture, local economy, and quality of life. Its mission is to build sustainable communities by assisting people to assert their right to local self-government and the rights of nature.


Additional Resources