As Historic Clean Water Case Goes Before PA State Supreme Court, Nearly 100 Groups File Brief Supporting PA-DEP

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[Philadelphia, PA] – As the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in a historic clean water case (EQT Production Company v PA Department of Environmental Protection), a group of nearly 100 non-profit organizations, small business owners and elected officials submitted a “Friend of the Court” brief (amicus brief, attached) to the court supporting PA-DEP in this suit.

The case was brought by the fracking company EQT, which accused PA-DEP of issuing exorbitant penalties for the EQT’s illegal pollution into a nearby stream, wetlands, and groundwater at one of the company’s fracking wastewater holding pounds in Tioga County, Pennsylvania. 

“This would be a major blow to DEP’s ability to fully and properly enforce our state’s cornerstone clean water law,” stated PennEnvironment Director David Masur.  “Without proper enforcement authority, polluters will have less incentive to comply with our laws, and DEP will be unable to issue appropriate fines for egregious polluters which could send the message that it ‘pays to pollute’ in Pennsylvania.”

PA-DEP stated in legal filings that this was the worst leak that the agency’s oil and gas program had ever seen, polluting a “High Quality” stream, an Exceptional Value wetland, and causing expansive area of groundwater contamination. 

Yet the company argued, and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court agreed, that it could only be fined for the days on which the contaminated wastewater leaked from the breached holding pond, not for the days on which the pollution lingered due to EQT’s unwillingness to clean up pollution flowing from the site.  PA-DEP appealed, so now the case will be heard by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

“We believe that Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law is as crystal clear as the waterways we’re working to protect by filing this amicus brief,” noted Attorney Steve Harvey who wrote the amicus brief on a pro-bono basis. “Section 301 explicitly states that polluters can’t discharge illegally, nor after the discharge can they permit the pollution to flow or continue to flow into any of the waters of the Commonwealth.

 The nearly 100 amicus signers consisted of organizations and individuals from all types of constituencies, including:

  • Public health, environmental, and civil rights organizations;
  • Small businesses that rely on clean water including breweries and distilleries;
  • Elected officials–, Democrats and Republicans alike–including city councilmembers, mayors, township supervisors, and state representatives and state senators.

“Today we speak with one voice to stand up for the agency that puts our environmental cops on the beat to protect our health and environment,” stated Masur. “We hope that the state Supreme Court keeps this law whole as it celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.  We are grateful for the historic, bipartisan agreement on this subject reflected in the Clean Streams Law, with its strong protection for the waters of the Commonwealth, and expect that the Court will uphold it.”

Full brief available for download here