In a clear signal of how the fossil fuel industry feels about efforts to enact Rights of Nature protections that safeguard communities and the environment from the impacts of coal, gas, and oil development, an energy company has—yet again—filed a federal lawsuit challenging a local law in Grant Township, Pennsylvania.
This is the second time that Pennsylvania General Energy Company (PGE) has sued over the 2015 law, which aims to keep fracking waste injection wells out of the community of about 700 people.
Though the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also previously sued the township, earlier this year—in what Rolling Stone described as a “stunning reversal”—the department cited the law when rescinding PGE a waste injection permit.
In March, the state department told the company—which is appealing the decision—that “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.”
“We are over the moon that the permit was rescinded,” Grant Township Supervisor Vice-Chair Stacy Long said at the time. “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.”
Approved by over 70% of Grant Township’s voters five years ago, the law recognizes the rights of local ecosystems. The measure was drafted with help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), which explains that Rights of Nature “is honoring and recognizing that nature has the right to exist, flourish, and thrive.” The global movement calls for shifting away from the view of nature as property that owners and companies can legally pollute and destroy.
“The fossil fuel industry is terrified the tactics taken in Grant Township are spreading,” Chad Nicholson, a CELDF organizer in Pennsylvania, said in a statement Tuesday. “This community continues to act as a lighthouse in a raging storm made up of oil and gas corporations, state permitting agencies, and enabling courts that have crashed down on them for over five years.”
“Yet they remain standing, protecting their own community,” Nicholson added. “They serve as both a warning signal to other communities, as well as a beacon of hope and courage to those who wish to fight back. We at CELDF are proud to continue to stand with them in their fight to protect their water and their community.”
In response to the company’s new filing, Jon Perry, chairman of the Grant Township Board of Supervisors, said, “So here we go again—PGE throwing another lawsuit at us to try to bring us to heel, when our community has overwhelmingly said ‘hell no’ multiple times.”
“PGE tried but couldn’t sell this well during this time of economic ruin,” Perry continued, “and so instead has delivered our community a Christmas present that blames our valid local law for its problems and is suing us again.”
“Grant Township has proven against all odds that a community is capable of stronger protections for the environment than state or federal governments,” the film’s co-director Joshua Pribanic told Rolling Stone in April. “By taking a stand and winning, they’ve set a new precedent worldwide on what the rights of nature can accomplish.”
Grant Township is far from alone in facing fossil fuel industry opposition to enacting protections for local ecosystems. CELDF noted Tuesday that this month, backlash to the movement came from industry-aligned Missouri lawmakers, and that the American Petroleum Institute, “perhaps the most influential fossil fuel lobby in the nation, filed a brief in opposition to a federal civil rights case brought by CELDF, in defense of local Ohio communities’ right to vote on qualified Rights of Nature laws.”
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Jessica Corbett is a Common Dreams staff writer.