The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
Main Office: 675 Mower Road, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania 17202
West Coast Office: 126 NE Mason Street, Portland, OR 97211
Commonwealth Court Denies Attorney General’s First Effort to
Overturn Sludge Ordinance in Schuylkill County, but Declares:
“There is No Right to Community Self-Government”
Three Judge Panel: “Municipalities are Creatures of the State and the Authority of the Legislature Over Their Powers is Supreme”
CONTACT: Ben Price, Projects Director, 717-243-6725
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(Chambersburg, PA September 24, 2008) On Tuesday, September 23rd, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania handed down a ruling on the state Attorney Generalâ€™s demand that the Court overturn East Brunswick Townshipâ€™s Sewage Sludge Ordinance. That Ordinance, adopted in 2007 by the Township Board of Supervisors in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, banned corporate sludge hauling within the Township, and removed the authority of sludge corporations to override the ban.
The Attorney General had asked the Court to rule immediately on the suit, without waiting for the normal course of litigation to proceed. The Court denied the Attorney Generalâ€™s request, holding that the Attorney General had not proven that the land application of sludge was a â€œnormal agricultural operationâ€ â€“ a prerequisite to the Attorney Generalâ€™s intervention into the dispute between the Township and a local corporation.
The Court , however, proceeded to rule that the Township did not possess a right to self-government, and that the State legislature acted constitutionally when it empowered the Attorney General to represent sludge and factory farm corporations in lawsuits against municipal governments. The Courtâ€™s ruling echoed arguments made previously by Attorney General Thomas Corbett, in which he declared that â€œthere is no inalienable right to local self-government.â€
The Legal Defense Fund, as legal counsel for the Township, argued that the community retains an inalienable right to govern itself â€“ and that when the State has shown its refusal to protect the health, safety, and welfare of a community, that the Townshipâ€™s lawmaking must override that of the State. The Township cited, among other provisions, Article 1, Section 2 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states: â€œAll power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority andâ€¦they have at all times an inalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish their government in such manner as they may think proper.â€
In rejecting that argument, the Court declared that, “First and foremost, we are not prepared to reject one of the most basic precepts of governmental structure in this Commonwealth, i.e., that local governments are creatures of the legislature from which they get their existence.”
Ben Price, Projects Director for the Legal Defense Fund, characterized the Courtâ€™s ruling as â€œmerely another reiteration that our communities cannot govern themselves under the current system of law. This decision should send another shockwave into communities that they will need to make some very difficult decisions about whether they will continue to surrender their abil ity to govern themselves to corporations and a legislature that have melded themselves together. Itâ€™s also a reason to support a growing understanding that a new State Constitution is necessary â€“ one that codifies the right to local self-government, and which protects the rights of citizens against those rights claimed by corporations.â€