Environmental lawyers were hit with court sanctions last week for using an unfounded legal theory to ban wastewater storage in a small Pennsylvania community.
Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter reprimanded two attorneys with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) for pushing “implausible” legal theories to defend a local ban on oil and gas wastewater disposal.
CELDF executive director Thomas Linzey and attorney Elizabeth Dunne must pay more than $50,000 to cover part of Pennsylvania General Energy’s legal fees for litigation connected to the ban, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported.
“An attorney’s zealous advocacy for the protection of a client’s interests is certainly appropriate; however, the legitimate pursuit of justice imposes important obligations on counsel to ensure that the Court is not a mechanism of harassment or unbridled obstruction,” Baxter wrote in her decision.
CELDF associate director Mari Margil claimed the sanctions are an example of the undue influence corporations can exert on the U.S. legal system, Kallanish Energy understands.
“At a time when Americans more and more are looking to the courts for reason and justice, today we find neither, as corporate forces once again have been able to wield our institutions of government to punish those working to elevate the rights of communities over fossil fuel corporations,” she said, in a statement to E&E News.
Pennsylvania General Energy had a permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to store wastewater in Grant Township (population 741), Indiana County, roughly 80 miles east of Pittsburgh, but municipal officials approved a ban on the practice in 2014, the Daily Caller reported.
The ban supposedly stripped corporations of constitutional rights and allowed lawyers to file lawsuits on behalf of forests, not individuals or groups. In short, they could sue to protect forests and nature from hydraulic fracturing.
“Rights of nature” lawsuits are considered unconventional, even though some systems around the world recognize the theory. Linzey used the CELDF in the past to push the legal concept in town ordinances and courtrooms in Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other states and cities.