Voters make history, adopting Home Rule Charter despite industry allies’ threats and intimidation


Chad Nicholson

Highland Township, Elk County, PA:  Tonight, voters in Highland Township (pop. 500) approved a historic measure, adopting a rights-based Home Rule Charter by a vote of 55% to 45%. The Charter – akin to a local constitution – prohibits frack wastewater injection wells, ensures fair taxation, and allows Township residents to democratically enact laws through an initiative process if the Township Supervisors fail to adequately represent the people.

Residents have been fighting to protect themselves from a frack wastewater injection well proposed by Seneca Resources since 2012. Seneca has a long history of permit violations, and injection wells have been linked to earthquakes and water contamination. Residents requested help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). In 2013, the Township adopted a Community Bill of Rights ordinance banning injections wells.

The battle since then has been complex. Earlier this year, under pressure from Seneca, Township Supervisors repealed the Community Bill of Rights ordinance. Anticipating that their Supervisors would cave, residents sought other ways to expand local control, resulting in their adoption of the Home Rule Charter tonight. The Charter was written by the elected Government Study Commission (GSC), with CELDF’s assistance, over the summer. The people’s decisive vote to adopt their Charter is the latest volley in this epic fight between a community and a massive gas corporation, and is a direct rebuke to local elected officials who have refused to serve and protect the community.

GSC Chairman John Guras said, “The Government Study Commission has worked tirelessly to draft a new Charter that would serve our residents. We attempted to include as many voices as possible in the Charter’s drafting, and with tonight’s vote, our work has paid off.”

Township resident Marsha Buhl stated, “It’s been a difficult few years for our Township, as we’ve been fighting to keep our water safe and to have our rights protected. Tonight’s vote represents a great new chapter for our community, and will ensure that it’s the people who live here, not a gas corporation, who make the decisions for our community’s future.”

Pennsylvania Communities Part of Growing Movement

Pennsylvania residents and their local representatives are advancing Community Rights as part of the broader Community Rights Movement building across 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.


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