Thursday, March 26, 2020

DEP Revokes Drilling Waste Injection Well Permit In Grant Twp., Indiana County After Environmental Rights Amendment Court Ruling

On March 19, the Department of Environmental Protection revoked its permit for a drilling wastewater injection well in Grant Township, Indiana County after a Commonwealth Court ruling March 2 saying the Township could use Pennsylvania's Environmental Rights Amendment to defend its ordinance banning injection wells.
DEP said in its revocation letter, “Operation of the injection well pursuant to the Injection Permit, issued on March 27, 2017 and amended on April 3, 2018, would violate a local law that is in effect.  Specifically, Section 301 of Grant Township’s Home Rule Charter bans the injection of oil and gas waste fluids. Therefore, the operation of the Yanity well as an oil and gas waste fluid injection well would violate that applicable law.”
DEP pointed out the action to revoke the permit is appealable to the Environmental Hearing Board within 30 days of the date of DEP’s letter (March 19).
In an announcement of the action, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which assisted in drafting the Grant Township Home Rule Charter ordinance, said, “This decision does not validate the actions of the DEP, but rather vindicates the resistance that communities like Grant [Township] have engaged in to force governmental agencies into doing the right thing.
"DEP has been acting in bad faith. I’m glad they revoked the permit. But it took them too long to do what all governments should be doing: enforcing democratically-enacted local laws that protect public health and safety.”
Township residents popularly adopted a Home Rule Charter-- a local constitution-- in 2015 that contains a “Community Bill of Rights.” 
The Charter bans injection wells as a violation of the rights of those living in the township and recognizes the rights of nature.
“We are over the moon that the permit was rescinded,” said Grant Township Supervisor Vice-Chair Stacy Long. “However, we know the permit should never have been issued in the first place. We can’t forget that DEP sued us for three years, claiming our Charter was invalid. Now they cite that same Charter as a valid reason to deny the industry a permit. It’s hypocritical at best. Add this to the pile of reasons Grant Township did not trust the DEP to protect our environment, and why we’ve had to democratically work at the local level to protect our community.” 
In March 2017 DEP issued a permit for an injection well in the Township and filed an action in court challenging Grant Township’s authority to prohibit drilling wastewater injection wells in its jurisdiction arguing provisions in the state Oil and Gas Act and the Solid Waste Management Act preempt their authority.
In a May 2018 decision, the Court sustained several of DEP objections, but the case continued on the issue of enforcing the constitutional rights under the Environmental Rights Amendment.
In the March 2 decision, the Court said, “In sum, the Township seeks to prove that hydrofracking and disposal of its waste is so dangerous to the environment as to be in violation of the ERA [Environmental Rights Amendment], and thus that the statutes upon which DEP bases its preemption claims are constitutionally invalid.
“While the Township may or may not be able to prevail on its constitutional claims, this Court has already ruled that it may attempt to do so in defense of DEP’s lawsuit, and this application for summary relief [by DEP] is nothing more than a collateral attack on that decision.”
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund said Grant Township is aware the industry and state agencies may sue them again. 
(Photo: Yanity well, Grant Township, Indiana County, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2017.)
[Posted: March 26, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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