Reclaiming Rights From Government and Industry

Ecolution reporting made possible by Seward Co-op, which has been a community-owned grocer since 1972: Together, we continue to cultivate a cooperative economy.

Grant Township in Pennsylvania, a town of 600, was sued three times by an energy company and the state’s department of environmental protection for defending its watershed from a fracking waste injection well. The township’s elected officials unanimously passed a Community Bill of Rights Ordinance in 2014 that declared “the rights of human and natural communities to water and a healthy environment.” The local law was approved by over 70 percent of its voters in 2015. The ordinance gave authority to the township’s attorney to litigate on the watershed’s behalf.

The town’s ordinance was challenged in the court system. A judge determined it was “implausible” to grant rights to an ecosystem, overturned the ordinance, and sanctioned the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) lawyers. The energy company was given permission to allow 42,000 gallons of toxic wastewater to be injected into a layer of rock 7,500 feet under the community every day for years.

“Americans are often under the belief that the EPA or their local state environmental agency is going to save them from environmental pollution, and that is simply not the case,” says Leila Conners, a documentarian whose 2016 film, “We the People 2.0,” examines how corporations undermine American democracy. “What people have to realize is that they are participating in a system that is not working. Across our country right now, companies are allowed to dump their waste pretty much for free.”

Conners was quoted in a Rolling Stone article that was updated in April 2020, after Pennsylvania’s environmental department reversed its position and revoked the permit for the injection well before it could begin work. As Rolling Stone reported: “At play in Grant Township was whether a corporation had the right to inject fracking waste in a resistant community, or whether the community — and its streams, soils, and species — had the right to block the corporation from depositing its waste.”

CELDF attorneys have begun to work with the Rights of Mississippi River group.