Approximately 60 people attended the seminar, including Highland Township Supervisor Joe Milstead. Representatives from groups as far away as Grant Township, Indiana County and Mahoning County, Ohio were on hand to lend their support to the small Elk County township.
Attorney Thomas Lindsey, co-founder of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, said the problem is not the corporations but rather the laws in the Commonwealth. Lindsey said without grassroots movements, such as the groups in Highland Township and Elk County, nothing will ever change.
Lindsey said the group stemmed out of his days in law school. Lindsey said municipalities across the Commonwealth who could not afford the $500- $1,000 per hour fee for environmental law services came to him and other students asking for help. He said that at first, his group would train people in these communities to be able to represent themselves pro se.
Lindsey said it worked well. So well, in fact, the corporations lobbied the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to eliminate pro se representation.
Lindsey said the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund was founded shortly thereafter. He said the group at first did whatever it could to make it more expensive for corporations to do business. However, after that proved ineffective, Lindsey said a more hands on approach by helping municipalities draft ordinances reinforcing their rights, such as the ordinance in Highland Township, proved to be more effective.
Highland Township Water Authority vice chairman Bryan Punk said that Seneca Resource’s proposed waste injection well will be drilled approximately 2,200 feet away from the spring where the township gets its water. Punk said the township’s hearing with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fell on deaf ears. Punk said since Seneca announced the proposed injection well, the water authority has been keeping a close eye on what their water looks like, and have approximately a year’s worth of data. However, Punk is still not happy.
“We did not ask for this,” Punk said.
Event co-organizer Marsha Buhl said she thinks people in the township are intimidated by Seneca, and becoming active in the community is the only way to fight it. Buhl said while she may be willing to die for the welfare of her family, she refuses to die for the gain of a corporation.
John Williams of Youngstown, Ohio from the group Frack Free Mahoning County, said that organization is active in Mahoning and Trumbull counties in Ohio. Williams’ colleague, Henrietta Bibbs, also of Youngstown, said contaminated drinking water is not the only problem that comes from fracking. Bibbs said there have been 109 earthquakes in Ohio caused by deep well drilling.
The picnic was sponsored by the Highland Township Citizens Advocating a Clean Healthy Environment, Pennsylvania Community Rights Network, Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Elk County C.A.R.E.S., The Shale Justice Coalition and Allegheny Defense Project.