Monday, May 15, 2017

PADEP, 100 others urge reversal on pollution fine limits

 EQT Corp. natural gas compressor station along the Monongahela River - Rebecca Droke photo, Post-Gazette

Laura Legere reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nearly 100 Pennsylvania elected officials, environmental groups and businesses signed on to legal briefs this week to support the Department of Environmental Protection in a state Supreme Court case that could severely restrict the maximum fines the state can issue for pollution to state waterways.
The environmental agency is appealing a Commonwealth Court decision from January that said fines for spills into state streams and groundwater must be based on the duration of the initial release and not on the days pollution continues to flow through the hydrologic system or seep out of contaminated soil.
The case could revise a four-decade-old interpretation of the state’s signature clean water law and invite challenges to nearly a dozen other major state environmental laws that contain similar language, according to former DEP Secretary David Hess, who wrote an online post calling it “one of the most important environmental cases in recent decades.”
Downtown-based EQT Corp. brought the case to challenge DEP’s position that residual pollution constitutes a continuing violation of the state Clean Streams Law, which the company said “leads to the absurd result of never-ending and unquantifiable liability.”
A three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed with EQT and said DEP’s reading “would be tantamount to punishing a polluter indefinitely,” or at least for as long as any remnant of the initial pollution stays in state waters, “even when a polluter is taking aggressive steps to remediate.”
DEP is urging an environmental hearing board to fine EQT at least $4.5 million for a wastewater pit leak and its aftereffects, which DEP says polluted high quality streams, an exceptional value wetland and an expansive area of groundwater around a Marcellus Shale drilling site in Tioga County beginning in 2012.
EQT contends the most it can be fined is less than a tenth of what the DEP is seeking
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