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Epic Battle in Pennsylvania: Corporate Agribusiness Versus Local Democracy

  • Residents Eject Deputy Attorney General from Rural Township
    They Refuse To Surrender Self-Governance To AG's Threat
    The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, May 13, 2007
    Straight to the Source

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
675 Mower Road
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania 17201

Residents Eject Deputy Attorney General from Rural Township

They Refuse To Surrender Self-Governance To AG's Threat

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Ben Price, Projects Director, CELDF
717-243-6725, BenGPrice@aol.com

Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (May 11, 2007) ­ On Thursday, May 10th, residents of East Brunswick Township, Schuylkill County, PA barred Deputy Attorney General Michael T. Killion from leaving a public meeting for a closed-door "executive session" with their Township Board of Supervisors.

The evening's events unfolded in the wake of Pennsylvania Attorney General Thomas Corbett's letter to the Township Board of Supervisors, threatening in part "to bring legal action against the Township pursuant to Section 315 of Act 38 to invalidate or enjoin the enforcement of Ordinance Number 1 of 2006."  Act 38,  the infamous "ACRE" law, was ramrodded through the legislature in 2005, after 5 years of failed attempts by agribusiness corporations and the Farm Bureau to strip local governments of the authority to ban factory farms and the land application of urban sewage sludge. ACRE gave the Attorney General new powers to bring suit against municipalities to overturn local laws on behalf of agribusiness corporations.

In 2006, the state's Attorney General began a campaign in rural communities across Pennsylvania to overturn local laws that regulate factory farms and sludge dumping more strictly than the ineffectual state regulations. Invoking his new-gained authority under "ACRE," the Attorney General began threatening Townships with lawsuits if they refused to rescind laws enacted to protect people and the environment from individuals legally insulated behind corporate privileges and immunities.

Killion's visit to East Brunswick marked the first time that an Ordinance prohibiting corporate interference with local governing decisions prompted the Attorney General to wrongly invoke ACRE. According to Killion, the Attorney General's office had determined that East Brunswick's anti-corporate sludge Ordinance, which was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and passed into law on December 6th, 2006, asserted a degree of real local governing authority that the Pennsylvania legislature had recently outlawed. After declining an invitation to meet with him at the state capital, the Township Board of Supervisors agreed to meet locally with Deputy Attorney General Killion in a closed session, despite an open letter published by local citizens demanding that no such meeting take place. The intent of his visit was widely anticipated, and residents arrived at the meeting prepared.

Board Chairman Richard Ketz brought the public meeting to order and immediately introduced Mr. Killion. Ketz then invited residents to ask him questions about the reason for his visit, prior to the scheduled executive session.

Thomas Linzey, Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) was first to make a statement. He had been asked by the Board of Supervisors to attend the pending closed door meeting, and took the opportunity to decline the invitation, saying "I find the Attorney General's intention of intimidating the Board of Supervisors into repealing their Ordinance to be anti-democratic, illegitimate, unconstitutional and indefensible. The Legal Defense Fund will not be a collaborator in a private meeting."

An extraordinary show of community solidarity followed, with residents packing the Township maintenance garage and taking turns grilling Killion about his mission. One resident after another declared that they would not allow a private meeting to take place, that the community's rights were not negotiable, and that whatever Mr. Killion had to say must be said in open session.

One questioner asked Killion why his office had decided to threaten the Township with a lawsuit. "This Ordinance is our way of protecting our families," he said. "The state won't do it. God knows the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) won't do it. So we have to!" Killion responded that a letter from a single landowner, Jeff Hill, prompted the state's interest in the Ordinance.

Killion claimed his office was neutral concerning the controversy over sewage sludge, but was obliged to enforce the ACRE law. Tom Linzey took issue with that claim, saying, "It makes you the private attorney for the sludge companies. Your office is now representing sludge companies, and they don't have to spend a dime, because they have the State at their disposal."

Because the Ordinance prohibits corporations from engaging in the land application of sewage sludge, it differs significantly from regulatory ordinances that set guidelines for how much sludge can be dumped, and what signs must be posted after dumping. Some attending the meeting wondered how Act 38, an agricultural law, could apply to their municipality's corporate Ordinance.

"The Attorney General's role should be to make Pennsylvania safe for Pennsylvania families," said Annette Etchberger. "Tom Corbett is taking ACRE and manipulating it against the families in the commonwealth and in favor of corporations like Synagro, who want to dump sludge wastes in our communities. I don't think that's a normal agricultural operation."

Some contested the legality of an executive session, and declared it would be in violation of the Sunshine Act. One questioner asked how it was that sludge could be dumped in the community and residents could make repeated unreturned calls and send letter after unanswered letter to the DEP and other state agencies, and yet a single letter from a landowner who wanted to spread sludge in violation of the local Ordinance resulted in a personal visit by the Attorney General's office to overturn the Ordinance. "Do you really think that the state is neutral on this issue?" he asked.

More than an hour of pointed questions followed, sprinkled with declarations that the community would not surrender its Ordinance, even if the state sided with the polluters. Supervisor Jeff Faust was the only elected official to speak, saying the Township had a right to make laws to protect the people and environment, since the state had failed to do so.

Finally Michael Killion relented. "I don't have to meet privately with the Board of Supervisors," he said.

Local resident Regina Wiyda stood to declare, "Since you now understand that you will not be meeting

privately with our elected officials, we'll just say thank you and good night." Her comment drew wild applause from the more than 100 people attending. Within moments, the meeting broke up. Deputy Attorney General Killion was soon on his way to Harrisburg to deliver a message from the People of East Brunswick to Attorney General Thomas Corbett. Hand-held signs went up throughout the room.

Their words read:

"We won't budge; no sludge!"

"We the People; Not Corporations!"

"Flush ACRE, But Don't Land Apply!"

"Who Decides? If not the People, it's not democracy!"

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