Rules Township Residents Must Accept Injection Well; Closes Courtroom Door to the People of Highland Township


Chad Nicholson, Pennsylvania Community Organizer

HIGHLAND TOWNSHIP, ELK COUNTY, PA: Last week, Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter issued a decision invalidating provisions of Highland Township’s Home Rule Charter, which protected the Township from frack wastewater. The Charter – akin to a local constitution – was voted in by Township residents in November 2016. It included a ban on wastewater injection wells as a violation of the community’s rights to clean air and water. Judge Baxter also recently denied intervention to three local parties working to protect the community from frack waste: the municipal Water Authority, the local nonprofit group Citizen’s Advocating a Clean Healthy Environment (CACHE), and the Crystal Spring Ecosystem.

Since 2012, Highland Township residents have been working with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to protect their community from Seneca Resources’ proposed injection well. Seneca is an oil and gas corporation with a history of permit violations. Injection wells threaten drinking water supplies, and have caused earthquakes in Ohio and Oklahoma. Resistance efforts culminated in their adoption of a Home Rule Charter last year.

Shortly thereafter, Seneca sued the Township, claiming that the Charter was preempted by state law and violated Seneca’s claimed constitutional “rights.” In last week’s ruling, the judge largely agreed with Seneca’s claims, giving Seneca the green light to inject toxic frack waste against the will of the people who live there.

This isn’t the first time Seneca has sued Highland Township. In 2015, Seneca filed a lawsuit to remove an Ordinance that also banned the proposed injection well. That case was settled when Township supervisors betrayed the will of their constituents and voluntarily repealed the Ordinance.

As well, earlier this year the Township was sued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The DEP claimed that the Charter interfered with state oil and gas policy. To be clear, the residents of Highland Township were sued by the Department of Environmental Protection for trying to protect the environment.

Highland resident and CACHE member Tom Orzetti said, “We’ve experienced firsthand how polluting corporations are given more protections than the people in our community. The courts continue to try to silence us, and deny us our rights, but we are not going away. The law was passed by those of us who live here, and we intend to enforce it, even if the courts won’t.”

CELDF Pennsylvania organizer Chad Nicholson said, “This is yet another example of how the corporate state works: the courts, corporations, our legislatures, and even the DEP, are designed to enforce a system that benefits industry at the expense of community health and safety. It’s an honor to stand with the people of Highland Township who continue to fight for what’s right, even when the system works to deny their rights at every level of government.”

Pennsylvania Communities Part of Growing Movement

Local communities and state Community Rights Networks are partnering with CELDF to advance and protect 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 Pennsyvlania 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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