Grant Township v. Goliath

Judy Wanchisn, co-founder of the East Run Hellbenders Society, and daughter, Grant Township Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Stacy Long, attend a screening of the documentary “Invisible Hand,” Elizabeth Pa., June 14, 2019. Photo by Nathan Zisk.

An opinion

By Stacy Long

GRANT TOWNSHIP — This missive addresses Mike Butler, author of a May 28 letter to the editor of The Indiana Gazette. Mr. Butler, mid-Atlantic executive director of Consumer Energy Alliance, made a wildly condescending attempt to sound frightening to Indiana County residents and to those of us in Grant Township.  We know of scarier, Mr. Butler.

Speaking of scared, that came through in your writing.  Your industry is scared.  That’s why CEA — a huge energy-industry-funded PR group founded by a leading proponent of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Canadian tar-sands industry and whose members include giants like ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell — made its stated goal for 2019 “to counter the message of anti-fracking and anti-pipeline protesters.”

CEA has been investigated in three states (Wisconsin, South Carolina and Ohio)  for illegally “comment stuffing” local legislators’ inboxes, in order to push through unwanted, enormous energy projects and mergers in communities that don’t want them.

In Ohio in 2016, CEA was accused of submitting fake letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission shortly before the public comment period closed on the Nexus Gas Transmission Pipeline. An attorney representing groups opposing the pipeline had tracked the letters, and noted one came from a man who had died in 1998.

And that’s only one example from one state in one year.  Mr. Butler refers to us as “extremists.”  I think using dead people to coerce legislators into approving unwanted projects is pretty extreme.

And what’s “extreme” about democratically stopping a project (the proposed injection well that Mr. Butler calls “a much-needed energy project”) that has caused human and environmental harms in other places and is being proposed by Pennsylvania General Energy,  a permit-violator?

Mr. Butler writes that we are “misguided.”  Were the suffragettes misguided?  Were the civil rights activists in Alabama misguided?  “Misguided” is a small rural community being sued by a corporation, punished by a court, and sued by a Department of Environmental Protection, just for voting to democratically protect its health and safety.  Fighting for inalienable rights is not “misguided.”

 

Proposed injection well site, Mill Run Road, Grant Township, Indiana County. Photo by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

BUT I DIGRESS.

It’s surprising that Mr. Butler used the phrase, “increasingly detrimental” when writing about our case.  Does he know what a Class II-D injection well even is?  Injection wells are the dictionary definition of “detrimental.”  That’s why Grant Township adopted a Home Rule Charter to protect ourselves against detriments like the proposed injection well.

  • “Detrimental” is invisible toxic fumes, a five-acre plant with barrels of cancer-causing and flammable bactericides and injectates on-site.
  • “Detrimental” is 13-hour-a day/7-day-a-week truck traffic on curving township roads and the diesel fumes and spills that will follow.
  • “Detrimental” is the radioactive waste slated for permanent storage in our watershed, put there by corporate serial polluter PGE, which never has operated an injection well, is regulated by an agency underfunded by Pennsylvania taxpayers and is captive to industry.  That agency—the state Department of Environmental Protection — is suing Grant Township for protecting its environment.  That’s a whole other story right there.
  • “Detrimental” is the Nexus Gas Transmission Pipeline I mentioned earlier.  We in Grant Township know and work with a number of people in Ohio who live in the vicinity of a compressor station for the Nexus pipeline.  Just last month, it was reported that the people of Medina County were using a special camera calibrated to detect the presence of 20 volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene and xylene — all  associated with the gas and oil industry and all found in fracking wastewater.

Member of 50-person audience gestures during panel discussion of the documentary film “Invisible Hand,” Elizabeth, Pa., June 14, 2019. Photo by Nathan Zisk.

This is how current laws cause real “detriment”:  The harmful project comes to your community.  The people attend hearings and talk to their legislators, opposing the harmful project.  The project harms the people of the community.  The burden of proving the existence of the harm falls on the people of the community.  The only option is to sue the operator and hire a bevy of experts to prove the harms, if you have the stomach for such things.  The operator will claim it is following the guidelines of the permit or permits it was issued.

This cycle is not “detrimental” to corporate polluters.  That cycle is detrimental to we, the people.

And why is something as big and powerful as the CEA writing about Grant Township’s “detriments” anyway?  Probably because if other communities fight like we do, that would spell detriment to Mike Butler and his ilk.

 

MR. BUTLER IS MISINFORMED when he writes that Grant Township “wasted hard-to-find taxpayer dollars trying to fight an injection well. Now, not-so-deep-pocketed township coffers and officials are left holding the bill.”

There would be no cost to taxpayers if the corporation that wants to dump frack waste understood that the democratic will of the people means no. There would be no fight without corporate intimidation, allowed by state and federal laws. And as someone who works with Township funds, I can verify that Mr. Butler is absolutely incorrect: Grant Township has spent less than $1,000 on fighting the lawsuits thrown at it. The money has been covered by contributions and donations.

Chad Nicholson, Pennsylvania organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Elizabeth, Pa., June 14, 2019. Photo by Nathan Zisk.

Our pro-bono lawyers certainly are not deep-pocketed and are not an environmental group. The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is a non-profit public-interest law firm working with communities to protect rights for people and nature — a scary beast you and your industry must demonize. Because what if everyone starts realizing that the whole regulation thing is meant to fail?  That the regulatory agencies aren’t there to protect people or the environment, but to protect the corporations the agencies issue permits to?

CELDF is working with our community at our request to stave off detriment and destruction. What other options do we have, besides pitchforks in the streets?

 

WHAT CRIPPLES COMMUNITIES are these legally permitted corporate pollution projects (like injection wells), not the “tough-to-overcome legal expenses,” as Mr. Butler opines.  Our township is beautiful, poor, sparsely populated and out of the way.  It would make an ideal toxic industrial dump for those reasons.

But hosting one or more injection wells is what will cripple Grant Township.  And that’s what frightens us. Our democratically enacted Home Rule Charter, which protects our rights, is what most likely frightens Mike Butler and his Consumer Energy Alliance.

Stacy Long is vice chair of the Grant Township Board of Supervisors.

 

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3 Responses to Grant Township v. Goliath

  1. MAN, IS THIS A GOOD ONE! Super. Should be widely published…say, for example, the Washington Post? or ???

    • David Loomis says:

      It’s a longer version of a recent 350-word letter to the editor in The Indiana Gazette. I invited the author to write a fresh piece for The HawkEye, and she submitted the fuller version she originally sent to The Gazette, which chopped it. Agreed: It’s worthy of the big metro dailies. Rolling Stone published a lengthy feature on Grant Township two years ago.

      d.

  2. Bill Wall says:

    Stay Long:
    You are amazing. A modern day hero. A hero with the superpower of cutting right to the point!

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