EARLIER THIS SUMMER, environmental activists in Ohio were alarmed by the passage of a mysterious state budget amendment that would close a new avenue for residents to sue polluters. The provision invalidated a landmark anti-pollution initiative passed by Toledo voters just a few months before. Now, emails obtained in a public records request reveal that the Ohio Chamber of Commerce secured the cooperation of a key Republican lawmaker in a successful effort to slip the amendment into an appropriations bill at the eleventh hour.
[Editor’s Note: The following was originally published in The Guide, a direct-mail weekly normally filled only with advertisements and want-ads. However, The Guide is sometimes used in Warren County to publish clarifications and rebuttals that address the “other side of the story” left out of articles published in the local newspaper, the Times Observer. In this instance, on April 4, 2019, the Times Observer published “PGE reduces legal fees in Grant Township case“. The article focused on Warren-based PGE’s seemingly merciful reduction of legal fees sought in their federal suit against Grant Township, but neglected coverage of the Township’s perspective. When the Grant Township authors of this article requested that the Times Observer provide more fair and balanced coverage, or even publication of a Letter to the Editor, they were denied. So a Grant Township citizen group, The East Run Hellbenders Society, paid to have the following published in The Guide on May 20, 2019.]
The Other Side of the Story ‐ Pennsylvania General Energy vs. Grant Township Federal Court Case
On April 4th, the Warren paper provided a brief report on this case, presenting an expression of support for the plaintiff (PGE), as front‐page “news”. The ongoing case, along with other facts, was not considered to be newsworthy, apparently.
We are the defendant in the case, representatives of Grant Township. Here is an explanation of the serious issues involved: We are defending our local right to block an oil and gas wastewater disposal well here using our right to self‐government. Our residents voted to adopt a Home Rule Municipal Charter which gives our community a broad right to self‐government. Our Home Rule Charter prohibits radioactive oil and gas waste dumping via injection wells in our township in order to protect residents’ fresh water wells. (There is no common township water supply; we all maintain our own wells for our own homes.) We also value our streams and the wildlife that depend on the streams including game fish and the eastern hellbender salamanders’ habitat. We believe PGE’s harmful project will ruin the watershed for Indiana County, as PGE’s record for environmental violations ranked 11th as a fracking company with the most violations of rules meant to protect the environment and public health*. It will be a slow poison for everyone. After our first ordinance to support local community rights was passed unanimously, PGE, the gas drilling company headquartered in Warren, brought suit against Grant Township in federal court. PGE asked the court to rule that protecting the community’s rights violated the corporation’s civil rights. While the case continued, the U.S. District Court has consistently ruled in PGE’s favor.
However, our case remains very much alive because of our Home Rule Charter. As in Warren’s own Home Rule Charter, this is law established by the people, not by the township officials. Judge Susan Baxter recently ordered our township to pay the legal expenses of PGE. The$103,000 order hits our township—a township too rural for streetlights, sidewalks and public water‐‐that must make ends meet on an annual $140,000 budget. Township Supervisor Jon Perry wrote to the court last year that Grant Township’s general fund revenue, mostly from property taxes, was projected at $147,000 and its general operating expenses were projected at $138,000, leaving less than $9000 before taking into account a $16,000 general fund deficitfrom the previous year. Other money that the township receives is restricted to specific uses, like road and bridge maintenance.
Grant Township does not have the means to pay attorney’s fees to PGE in any amount – not $500,000, not $100,000, and not $1000”, he wrote. Our county commissioners and our township’s state senator and representative also asked the court not to punish the township “for taking actions they believed were in the best interests of the community they represent”.
The idea that our rural township has damaged PGE is astonishing. What we are doing is fighting back – BEFORE the harm of the proposed project hits our residents. This court’s rulings so far have indicated a preference for protection of the corporation’s “civil” rights above our inalienable rights as human beings. When and if the water is contaminated in Grant Township, our only recourse would be to depend on the DEP or “sue the operator”. Neither of those scenarios protects our health, safety and welfare, but our Charter does.
As of today, there is no injection well in Grant Township. As of today, the Home Rule Charter that our residents voted for remains on the books protecting our health and safety. We will continue to carry out our sworn duty to protect the welfare of this community.
You are welcome to join us in protecting our communities, by contacting us at Grant Township Municipal Building, 100 East Run Road, Marion Center, PA 15759.
* Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Oil and Gas Management, Oil and Gas Reports, December 2016.
Jon Perry, Chairman, Grant Township
Stacy Long, Vice Chair, Grant Township
Ron Jarvie, Supervisor
“[Original article in The Guide] Paid for by The East Run Hellbenders Society”