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Rural Pennsylvania Township Wins First Round of Sludge Fight Against Attorney General

  • By Ben Price
    The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, March 17, 2010

Harrisburg (March 17) – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled today against the State’s Attorney General and in favor of Packer Township - a rural Carbon County Township which has banned corporate sewage sludge spreading within their municipality.

In a lawsuit filed in August of 2009, Pennsylvania Attorney General Thomas Corbett claimed that Packer’s ordinance – which bans corporations from land applying sewage sludge within the Township – violated Pennsylvania’s “ACRE” law. Through that law, the legislature has prohibited local governments from regulating “normal agricultural operations” and empowers the Attorney General to sue those municipalities. The lawsuit against Packer is one of about a dozen lawsuits filed by the Attorney General’s office against ordinances adopted by rural Pennsylvania communities.

The Packer ordinance, adopted in 2008, bans corporate sludging within the Township, citing the dangers that land applied sewage sludge poses to the community and the natural environment. Recently, the Packer Township Supervisors spoke at a state rally in Harrisburg which urged the legislature to overturn the “ACRE” law.

Tom Gerhardt, Chairman of the Packer Township Supervisors, vowed that the Supervisors would continue to fight the State, declaring that “we’re in this to the bitter end – we believe that the State’s override of our right to govern ourselves in our own community violates our constitutional right to self-government. We’re going to defend local control at all costs.”

Ben Price, projects director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund – the law firm representing Packer Township in the litigation – reiterated Gerhardt’s statement and explained that “this fight isn’t just about sewage sludge, but the right of Pennsylvania communities to decide what happens in their own municipality. We believe that every community in Pennsylvania has an inalienable and fundamental right to local self-government, and we’ll continue to aggressively defend Packer’s ordinance against these actions by the Pennsylvania legislature and Attorney General Corbett.”

In its recent ruling, the Commonwealth Court denied the Attorney General’s motion requesting that the Court overturn the ordinance. The case now moves toward trial, in which the Township and the Attorney General will contest whether the land application of sludge is a “normal” practice, and whether it constitutes a direct threat to human health and safety.

The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Packer Township, 432 MD 2009.

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