Federal Judge Throws Out CELDF “Rights of Nature” Fracking Ban
In August, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) filed a motion to intervene on a lawsuit regarding an injection well in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, which had an odd component – it attempted to intervene on behalf of the ecosystem. This week a federal judge, Magistrate Judge Susan Baxter, ruled against CELDF’s ‘Community Bill of Rights’ stating,
“Although defendant wishes it were not so, the development of oil and gas (which necessarily includes the management of waste materials generated at a well site) is a legitimate business activity and land use within Pennsylvania.”
Baxter also said,
“There is no state authority expressly granting a municipal government or its people the authority to regulate the depositing of waste from oil and gas wells or to invalidate permits granted by the state or federal government. Any provision enacted without underlying legislative authority is invalid and unenforceable.” (emphasis added)
And when it came to the ecosystem’s right to file suit, Baxter found CELDF didn’t have enough evidence to support their position, saying,
“As to the issue of whether the Little Mahoning Watershed, an ecosystem, has standing under the law, no determination need be made here. Clear and convincing evidence has not been produced to show that [the township’s] vigorous defense of the Ordinance, the terms of which protect the Watershed in all of its locations, do not line up precisely.” (emphasis added)
This isn’t CELDF’s first experience with rejection. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, “similar ordinances supported by the group in other communities have failed to withstand legal challenges,” across the country. According to Reuters,
“So far, five of the communities that have adopted CELDF-written ordinances, including Grant Township, have had them challenged in court, and one decided to repeal its measure after a federal judge ruled against it. The other communities say they don’t expect to win.”
These towns have been faced with the threat of bankruptcy following CELDF’s losses. The city of Lafayette, Colorado has paid $60,000 to date defending its 2013 CELDF-authored Community Bill of Rights. After spending thousands of dollars, Mora County, New Mexico repealed their ordinance earlier this year explaining,
“We weren’t comfortable using our county as the test case to try to overturn two centuries of law,” said Mora County Commissioner Paula Garcia.
But even when taxpayers come out against the ordinance, CELDF has continued to push them as is the case in Youngstown, Ohio where the Community Bill of Rights has been voted down five times already. The Youngstown Vindicator has discussed this saying,
“We have presented every argument we can think of against the charter amendment, and while the voters have made up their minds, the advocates continue to turn a deaf ear to government and business leaders who have warned of the economic fallout if the Community Bill of Rights is enshrined in the Youngstown Home Rule Charter. A reasonable person — with emphasis on the word reasonable— would conclude, therefore, that the outcome of the general election should be the final word on this self-serving issue. After all, the people have spoken, over and over.” (emphasis added)
In response to criticism over the amount of money communities have to spend to defend the ordinances, CELDF’s founder said,
“If a town goes bankrupt trying to defend one of our ordinances, well, perhaps that’s exactly what is needed to trigger a national movement.”
Fortunately this court saw through CEDLF’s attempts to invalidate landowner rights and the rights of a company to operate in the Commonwealth. CELDF now has its sights set on Colorado in an attempt to get a ban-fracking initiative on the state’s 2016 ballot. This effort is a replay of last year’s Amendment 75 which never gained enough support to make it on the ballot. That alone should have been enough for CELDF to drop the cause, knowing it’s not supported by Colorado’s taxpayers, but once again the group will try to push its anti-fracking agenda at someone else’s expense.
It’s unfortunate that taxpayers have to foot the bill when CELDF comes to town, despite the group’s ever growing list of failures. One can only hope future communities will learn from the mistakes of others, and at least in Pennsylvania, precedence has now been set to thwart future efforts legally.